Criminal law is the law that governs all judicial proceedings of cases that fall under the category “crime”. All criminal law cases fall under the field of law which is referred to as tort law. Therefore, this law defines the offenses which are criminal in nature and assigns a specific punishment to each offense. In the US, defining the elements of criminal law and criminal justice is the sole responsibility of both the federal government and the individual states. Although recent years have seen an increase in the predominance of the federal government in as far as presiding over criminal cases is concerned, in the past, the two shared the responsibility almost in half. Like any country in the world, the US criminal defense law is responsible for defining what social conduct is threatening to property, people or the health and wellbeing of the people.
Common law was very prominent when the United States was an infant country. For example, the courts were at liberty to develop laws that initially did not form part of the federal government statutes. This was the case during the early 1800s when the courts were allowed to come up with laws that were commonly referred to as common laws. The common laws embodied all the judicial guidelines for crimes that did not form part of the federal government statutes. All crimes which are defined by the courts of law are referred to as common law crimes. Up to this day, some states still have common laws and federal laws operating side by side. But, some states have absorbed some common laws into their federal judicial systems. This is especially important in cases where no statutory information is available on a specific crime.
The federal statutes are defined by the judicial system of the federal government. There is a model penal code is often used in most states to provide guidance on how to handle certain criminal cases. This penal code was created by the American Law Institute and is adhered to by a good number of states across the US. The penal code varies from one state to another. Therefore, crimes committed in one state may not be handled in the same way in another state. You have to be in possession of a specific constitution belonging to the state you are interested in if you are to know the definition of certain crimes.
Enforcing criminal law in the US
The federal government is primarily responsible for enforcing criminal law across the country. Through the use of various tools such as the judicial system and the various police departments, it is able to enforce the criminal law on the citizens of the land. The goals of criminal law are primarily the same irrespective of the state involved. Although a few variations may be noted, most of the concrete reasons for enforcing criminal law are the same. Some of the most notable reasons for enforcing criminal law are indicated below:
- Punishment; the law is very clear on matters of punishment. It uses all means to punish individuals who commit crimes. The criminal law defines all the penalties that should be slapped on offenders for committing certain crimes. Since the elements of penal codes differ from one state to another, criminal law punishments also vary from one state to another. Common examples of punishments that are slapped on offenders include whips, strokes of a cane, fines, incarceration or jail term. Suspended imprisonment or confiscation of travel documents and licenses may also be slapped on offenders according to the penal code of certain states.
- Protection of rights; the US criminal defense law aims at protecting the rights of all American citizens by ensuring that no one takes advantage of another person. The punishments that are outlined in the law are specifically incorporated for purposes of protecting all the citizens of the US as well as visitors to the country from manipulation, loss of property or even the loss of life. They are generally put in place for purposes of preventing both the inhabitants of the US and visitors from committing crimes.