criminal law | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Criminal law is a body of laws that define and regulate the punishment of individuals who commit crimes.


It is a type of public law that is concerned with the regulation of behavior and the maintenance of social order. Criminal law is enforced by the government through law enforcement agencies, such as the police, and is adjudicated in courts.

In criminal law, a crime is defined as an act or omission that is prohibited by law and punishable by the state. Crimes are typically classified as either felonies or misdemeanors, with felonies being more serious offenses that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or, in some cases, by death. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses that are punishable by imprisonment for less than one year or by fines.

Criminal law is designed to protect society by deterring criminal behavior and punishing those who commit crimes. It is based on the principle that individuals are responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for their wrongdoing. In order to prove that a crime has been committed, the prosecution must demonstrate that the accused person had the requisite mental state (known as “mens rea”) and committed the prohibited act (known as “actus reus”) with the necessary intent. If the prosecution is successful, the accused person may be found guilty and sentenced to a punishment, such as imprisonment, fines, or probation.


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Last Modified: 01/09/2023

 

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