Substantive criminal law defines specific offenses that are punishable by law. Each offense has a set of elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be found guilty. These elements vary depending on the crime but always include the general elements of crime discussed in the last section: the actus reus, or the physical act, and the mens rea, or the intent or knowledge of the defendant.
For example, the elements of the crime of murder typically include the intentional killing of another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought refers to the intent to kill or seriously harm another person or the reckless disregard for human life that results in death.
Similarly, robbery involves taking another person’s property through force or threat of force, with the intent to deprive the owner of their property permanently. The elements of robbery typically include the use of force or the threat of force, the taking of property belonging to another person, and the intent to deprive the owner of their property permanently.
Other crimes, such as burglary, require the defendant to have entered a building or structure with the intent to commit a crime inside. The elements of burglary typically include the breaking and entering of a structure with the intent to commit a crime inside.
In criminal law, murder is intentionally killing another human being. At common law, murder was defined as killing someone with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought means that the plan to harm or kill someone was premeditated. This could be satisfied in many ways, including intentionally causing harm or committing a felony that leads to someone’s death.
In addition to premeditated murder, there is also something called depraved heart murder. This happens when someone does something so dangerous that it is highly likely that someone will die, even if they did not specifically intend to kill anyone. An example of this is firing a gun into a train car. An alternative was a murder committed when the intent was only to cause grievous bodily harm.
Although there are differences in the way common law and modern law classify murder, their underlying prohibitions are the same. The Model Penal Code, for example, prohibits purposefully or knowingly killing another human being. This is similar to the common law rule against intentional murder. The Model Penal Code also punishes killings resulting from extreme recklessness, similar to the common law’s depraved heart murder. If a killing happens during the commission of certain felonies, the Model Penal Code creates a rebuttable presumption that it was done with extreme recklessness. This is similar to the common law felony murder rule.
It is important to note that the laws regarding murder can vary between different jurisdictions, and there may be specific elements that must be proven to convict someone of murder. These elements may include the intent to kill or cause serious harm, premeditation, and causation. It is also important to understand the differences between murder and other crimes, such as manslaughter, which may have different requirements for conviction.
Assault and Battery
In everyday language, the terms assault and battery are often used interchangeably, but in many jurisdictions, they are two distinct criminal offenses. The legal definitions of assault and battery vary by jurisdiction, but they generally involve the intentional use of force or the threat of force against another person.
An assault is typically defined as an act that creates an imminent fear in the victim that they will be physically harmed. In other words, an assault is a threat of force rather than the use of force itself. This threat of force can be conveyed through words, actions, or gestures as long as it is enough to make the victim fear that they will be harmed. For example, pointing a gun at someone would likely constitute an assault, even if no physical harm occurred.
On the other hand, a battery is typically defined as the use of physical force against another person that results in some actual harm or offensive touching. Offensive touching can include any unwanted or non-consensual touching, such as a slap or a punch, and some jurisdictions may include any unwanted touching in their definition of battery. In addition, many jurisdictions define an unwanted touching of a person’s sexual organs as sexual battery, which is a separate offense.
It is important to note that in most cases, assault is considered a lesser-included offense of battery. This means that if a person is charged with both assault and battery for the same act, they can only be convicted of one of the offenses, not both. This is because a battery necessarily includes an assault, but an assault does not necessarily include a battery.
Understanding the distinctions between assault and battery is important in criminal law because the severity of the offense and the potential penalties can differ significantly. Generally, a conviction for assault will result in less severe penalties than a conviction for battery. In addition, some jurisdictions may have specific laws that apply to assault or battery in certain circumstances, such as domestic violence or hate crimes, which can result in enhanced penalties.
Rape is a crime that has undergone significant changes over time. At common law, rape was defined as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a female without her consent. In this common law context, the term unlawful means that the law did not authorize the act. Historically, this precluded applying the rape law to a husband who forced his wife to have sex (now known as marital rape). Carnal knowledge is synonymous with sexual intercourse.
Historically, rape has been a difficult crime for prosecutors to prove. One of the most challenging elements to establish in court has been the victim’s lack of consent. In many jurisdictions, especially in the past, rape laws required the victim to offer forceful resistance to the perpetrator, which often left victims feeling powerless and traumatized. Additionally, many states required that the victim be of “previously chaste character,” which defense attorneys would use to attack the victim on the witness stand, adding to the trauma of an already distressing event.
To address these issues, most states have passed rape shield laws. These laws protect victims of rape from further trauma by prohibiting the introduction of evidence about the victim’s past sexual history and reputation.
The changing legal climate of rape law has influenced the definition used by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program. The traditional UCR definition of rape excluded many sex offenses that are criminal in most jurisdictions. In response, the FBI revised the definition to include “any penetration, regardless of how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the victim’s consent.” This new definition is very similar to that of the Model Penal Code’s rape statute, which defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina, anus, or mouth, without the victim’s consent.”
Arson is a crime that involves setting fire to a building or other property intentionally and maliciously. Historically, common law arson was defined as the burning of the dwelling of another person, and the punishment was severe – death by burning. However, this narrow definition has been expanded over time, and today, most structures qualify as targets for arson. In addition, some states define arson as the burning of any valuable property, such as cars, boats, or other items of personal property. In these cases, the penalty for arson is based on the value of the property destroyed.
It is important to note that not all fires are considered arson. To qualify as arson, the fire must be started intentionally and with criminal intent. The malicious intent can include an intention to cause harm to another person, to destroy property, or to defraud an insurance company. Arson can also involve setting a fire to cover up another crime, such as a burglary or a murder.
The MPC, which is a set of criminal laws developed by legal experts, requires that an arsonist have the purpose of destroying another person’s building or other structure. This means that the arsonist must have a specific intent to cause damage to the property, and that the damage caused by the fire must be more than just smoke or blackening. Some part of the structure, no matter how small, must be destroyed by the fire to qualify as arson.
Arson is considered a very serious crime because of the potential danger to people’s lives and property. In addition to the physical damage caused by the fire, arson can also have psychological and emotional effects on the victims. Arson investigations often involve complex forensic analysis, and the penalties for arson can be severe, including imprisonment and significant fines.
Robbery is a crime in which a person takes another person’s property through the use of force or the threat of force. In other words, robbery involves using violence or the threat of violence to take something that does not belong to the perpetrator. Because of the use of force, most jurisdictions consider robbery to be a crime against persons (or a violent crime) rather than just a property crime. This means that robbery is taken more seriously by the law than other types of property crimes.
However, not all thefts involving force are considered robberies. In most jurisdictions, a person must use a certain level of force to be charged with robbery. For example, purse snatching, where a person steals a purse by grabbing it from the victim’s arm, may not be considered a robbery because it does not involve a high degree of force or the threat of force.
Robbery is often divided into categories based on the level of seriousness of the offense. The use of a weapon during a robbery, particularly a firearm, usually results in a more severe charge, such as aggravated robbery or first-degree robbery, depending on the state’s laws. Aggravated robbery is a more serious offense than regular robbery because the perpetrator used a weapon or caused serious bodily harm to the victim.
Most states have their own laws on robbery, but some robberies are considered federal crimes. These include robberies that affect interstate commerce, such as bank robberies, or those involving currency, such as armored car heists. Because these crimes cross state lines or involve federal institutions, they fall under federal jurisdiction rather than state jurisdiction.
Burglary is a crime that has been historically associated with breaking into someone else’s home at night. The dwelling house of another was the term used in common law for this requirement. However, today, most states have expanded the definition of burglary to include any structure, such as commercial buildings, garages, and even sheds, and any time of day. The rationale behind this expansion is to protect not only homes but also all other structures where valuable items may be stored.
The distinction between residential and commercial burglary is common in many jurisdictions, where the punishment for residential burglary is usually more severe than for commercial burglary. This is because residential burglary is considered to be more serious as it involves the intrusion of a person’s private space, which is regarded as sacred under the common law tradition.
Modern statutes require that for an act to be considered burglary, there must be a breaking and entering into the home or other structure of another person with the intent to commit a crime inside. Usually, the crime will be theft, but other offenses, such as rape, can also meet the requirements for burglary. A “breaking” is the act of gaining entry by force or deception, and “entering” means that the perpetrator must have entered the structure.
The intent to commit a crime inside the structure is a crucial element of the crime of burglary. If a person breaks into a structure without the intent to commit a crime inside, they may be charged with a lesser offense, such as trespassing. However, if a person enters a structure with the intent to commit a crime inside, such as theft, they can be charged with burglary. In summary, burglary is a serious crime that involves the breaking and entering of a structure with the intent to commit a crime inside.
Classification of Juvenile Behaviors
Juvenile justice is a separate system from the adult criminal justice system, with its own unique treatment of juveniles. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), there were approximately 686,000 juveniles arrested in the United States in 2020 (Puzzanchera, 2021). This is a significant decrease from the number of juvenile arrests in the past decade. Of those arrests, only about 27,000 were for violent crimes (Puzzanchera, 2021). The vast majority of juvenile arrests were for property crimes and nonviolent offenses, such as drug offenses and disorderly conduct.
The juvenile justice system is responsible for dealing with youths who commit criminal acts. When a juvenile violates the law, they are placed into one of three categories: delinquents, status offenders, and dependent and neglected children.
Delinquents are youths who commit acts that would be considered as criminal if the same act were committed by an adult. This includes both misdemeanors, such as minor theft or vandalism, and felonies, such as robbery or murder. Juvenile delinquency is a serious issue, with the rate of juvenile arrests in the United States fluctuating over the years.
Status offenders, on the other hand, are youths who commit acts that would not be considered as criminal if committed by an adult. These are referred to as status offenses, which include truancy, running away from home, and curfew violations.
Finally, dependent and neglected children are youths who are disadvantaged in some way and in need of support and supervision. This group includes children who have been abused or neglected, children with mental health or developmental issues, and children who have been abandoned or are homeless. This is in keeping with the juvenile justice system’s goal of ensuring their safety and well-being and providing them with the necessary support and resources to overcome their difficulties.
In criminal law, there are several offenses that are punishable by law, each with its own specific definition and elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be found guilty. Some of the most common offenses include murder, assault and battery, rape, arson, robbery, and burglary.
Murder is the act of intentionally killing another human being. At common law, murder was defined as killing someone with malice aforethought, meaning the plan to harm or kill someone was premeditated. Today, most jurisdictions prohibit purposefully or knowingly killing another human being, and the Model Penal Code punishes killings that result from extreme recklessness.
Assault and battery are often used interchangeably in everyday language, but they are two distinct criminal offenses. An assault is an act that creates an imminent fear in the victim that they will be physically harmed. A battery is the use of physical force against another person that results in some actual harm or offensive touching.
Rape is a crime that involves any penetration, regardless of how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the victim’s consent. Historically, rape has been a difficult crime for prosecutors to prove, but most states have passed rape shield laws to protect victims of rape from further trauma.
Arson is the crime of setting fire to a building or other property intentionally and maliciously. To qualify as arson, the fire must be started intentionally and with criminal intent, and the damage caused by the fire must be more than just smoke or blackening.
Robbery involves using violence or the threat of violence to take something that does not belong to the perpetrator. It is often divided into categories based on the level of seriousness of the offense. The use of a weapon during a robbery usually results in a more severe charge, such as aggravated robbery or first-degree robbery.
Burglary is the crime of breaking and entering into the home or other structure of another person, with the intent to commit a crime inside. The intent to commit a crime inside the structure is a crucial element of the crime of burglary.
The juvenile justice system categorizes youths into three groups: delinquents, status offenders, and dependent and neglected children. Delinquents are youths who commit acts that would be considered as criminal if the same act were committed by an adult, including both misdemeanors and felonies. Status offenders are youths who commit acts that would not be defined as criminal if committed by an adult, such as truancy, running away from home, and curfew violations. Dependent and neglected children are youths who are disadvantaged in some way and in need of support and supervision.
Puzzanchera, C. (2021). Juvenile Arrests 2019. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Stahl, J. (2022). Juvenile Law. Legal Information Institute.
Arson, Assault, Battery, Burglary, Carnal Knowledge, Commercial Burglary, Common Law Arson, Delinquent, Dependent and Neglected Children, Depraved Heart Murder, Dwelling House, Felony Murder Rule, Grievous Bodily Harm, Lesser-included Offense, Marital Rape, Murder, Rape, Rape Shield Laws, Rebuttable Presumption, Residential Burglary, Robbery, Sexual Battery, Status Offenders, Status Offenses, Truancy
Last Updated: 06/07/2023
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