Criminal law is a branch of law that deals with crimes and their punishments. It is concerned with the enforcement of laws passed by a government or other regulatory body, and the prosecution of individuals or organizations accused of violating those laws.
In the criminal justice system, criminal law involves the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of individuals or organizations accused of committing crimes.
But first, let’s look at two main categories of criminal law – substantive criminal law and procedural criminal law.
Substantive Criminal Law vs Procedural Criminal Law
Substantive criminal law refers to the body of law that defines criminal offenses and establishes the elements that must be present for a person to be found guilty of a particular crime. It also sets out the penalties that will be imposed for committing a particular crime.
Examples of substantive criminal law include laws against murder, theft, and drug trafficking.
Procedural criminal law, on the other hand, establishes the rules and procedures that law enforcement and the criminal justice system must follow in investigating, charging, and trying criminal cases. It outlines the rights of defendants and the rules for the admissibility of evidence, among other things.
Some examples of procedural criminal law include rules for search and seizure, rules for the admissibility of evidence, and rules for the arrest and questioning of suspects.
Substantive criminal law defines the crime and the punishment while procedural criminal law defines the process by which the crime is investigated, charged, and tried. These two areas of criminal law work together to provide a comprehensive legal framework for addressing criminal conduct.
It is worth noting that these two branches of criminal law have to be consistent with each other, as well as with the constitution of the country and international laws.
And they are not independent of each other, but rather they are interrelated and they need to be applied in an integrated way to guarantee the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.
Major Types of Criminal Law
Let’s go over the major types of criminal law.
A felony is a serious crime in the United States that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, or by death. Some examples of felonies include murder, rape, armed robbery, and aggravated assault.
Felonies are typically considered more serious than misdemeanors, which are crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for one year or less.
In some jurisdictions, the term “felony” may also refer to a category of crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, regardless of whether the crime is considered to be serious or not.
A misdemeanor is a less serious crime in the United States that is punishable by imprisonment for one year or less, or by a fine.
Some examples of misdemeanors include petty theft, simple assault, disorderly conduct, and driving under the influence (DUI).
Misdemeanors are typically considered less serious than felonies, which are crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, or by death.
In some jurisdictions, the term “misdemeanor” may also refer to a category of crimes that are punishable by imprisonment for one year or less, regardless of whether the crime is considered to be serious or not.
White-collar crime refers to non-violent crimes that are committed by individuals or businesses in the course of their occupations, typically for financial gain.
These crimes are usually committed by professionals or business people and often involve deception or fraud.
Some examples of white-collar crimes include embezzlement, insider trading, money laundering, and tax evasion.
White-collar crimes are often difficult to detect and prosecute because they are often committed by people who are in positions of trust and have access to sensitive information or resources.
They are often seen as less serious than violent crimes, but can still have serious consequences for victims and the economy.
Cybercrime, or computer-oriented crime, refers to crimes that are committed using the internet or other forms of computer technology. These crimes can take many different forms, including:
- Hacking: unauthorized access to computer systems or networks
- Identity theft: stealing someone’s personal information in order to commit fraud
- Phishing: using fake emails or websites to trick people into giving away sensitive information
- Distribution of malware: spreading viruses or other malicious software
- Distribution of illegal or copyrighted material: such as music, movies, or software
Cybercrime is a growing problem, as more and more people and businesses rely on computers and the internet for their daily activities. It can be difficult to detect and prosecute cybercriminals, as they often operate from different countries and use anonymous online identities.
Environmental crimes, also known as green crimes, are crimes that involve the illegal exploitation or destruction of the natural environment. These crimes can take many different forms, including:
- Illegal dumping of hazardous waste
- Unlawful logging or deforestation
- Poaching or illegal trade in endangered species
- Illegal hunting or fishing
- Fraud in relation to environmental protection laws
- Illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances
Environmental crimes can have serious consequences for the environment and for human health. They are often difficult to detect and prosecute, as they often take place in remote areas or involve complex supply chains.
Many countries have laws in place to punish individuals and companies that commit environmental crimes.
Drug crimes, also known as narcotic crimes, refer to crimes that involve the possession, sale, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs.
These crimes are regulated by both federal and state laws, and the specific charges and penalties can vary depending on the type and amount of drugs involved, as well as the defendant’s prior criminal history.
Some examples of drug crimes include:
- Possession of illegal drugs: carrying or storing drugs without legal permission
- Distribution of illegal drugs: selling, giving away, or transporting drugs
- Manufacture of illegal drugs: making or growing drugs
- Drug trafficking: importing or exporting drugs across national borders
- Drug possession with intent to distribute: carrying drugs with the intention of selling them
Drug crimes are considered serious offenses and can result in significant fines and imprisonment. Some jurisdictions have implemented alternative approaches to drug crimes, such as treatment and rehabilitation programs, rather than focusing solely on punishment.
Sexual offenses, also known as sex crimes, are crimes that involve non-consensual sexual activity or the exploitation of minors for sexual purposes. These crimes can take many different forms, including:
- Rape: non-consensual sexual intercourse
- Sexual assault: unwanted sexual contact or touching
- Child sexual abuse: sexual contact with a minor
- Indecent exposure: exposing oneself in public
- Prostitution: engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money or other compensation
- Human trafficking: recruiting, harboring, transporting, or obtaining a person for the purpose of sexual exploitation
Sexual offenses are considered very serious crimes and can result in significant fines and imprisonment. Some sexual offenses, such as rape and child sexual abuse, can also carry lifetime registration requirements as a sex offender.
In addition to criminal penalties, individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses may also face civil liabilities, such as being sued for damages by the victim.
Criminal law plays a significant role in society by defining actions that are considered harmful to society and establishing punishments for those actions. It serves as a deterrent to crime by making it clear to individuals that certain actions will be punished and by imposing those punishments when crimes are committed.
Criminal law also helps to protect the public by ensuring that individuals who have been accused of crimes are brought to justice and held accountable for their actions. This helps to promote public safety and can give victims of crime a sense of justice and closure.
In addition to these functions, criminal law also helps to maintain social order and stability by establishing rules for behavior and enforcing those rules through the criminal justice system. By enforcing criminal laws, the government can maintain order and prevent chaos and disorder in society.
Overall, criminal law plays a crucial role in society by defining and punishing actions that are harmful to society and by promoting public safety and maintaining social order.