Criminal Law Basics

Understanding the criminal law basics is an essential education for every citizen of the US. We are exposed to several aspects of the law through books, movies and television. Criminal law is the section of law that pertains to crime. It establishes rules governing the conduct, which can endanger, threaten or harm the well-being and safety of the people. It also dictates how the violators of the criminal law are to be punished.

Some of the essential aspects under the criminal law basics include:

  • definition of criminal activity
  • lawmakers
  • types of crimes and punishment
  • constitutional rights
  • judge or jury trial
  • Burden of Proof
  • Statute of Limitations

Criminal Activity

The two components of criminal activity are Guilty Mind and Guilty Act. To be tried under the criminal law, a crime needs to be a combination of the guilty act lead by the guilty mind.

Who Makes These Laws

The US Congress and the State legislatures enact the criminal laws. The State Laws govern the ordinary crimes like a burglary in the state. Local prosecutors would prosecute such cases. Crimes involving federal property, employees, taxes, receipt of benefits, civil rights, and interstate commerce are governed by the Federal Laws.

Types of Crimes

The two major classifications of the crimes are Misdemeanors and Felonies. Misdemeanors are punished by imprisonment under one year term. Misdemeanors are Speeding, Trespassing, Public intoxication and Vandalism. Felonies are punished by imprisonment for more than one year. The felonies identified by the criminal law are Treason, Burglary, Robbery, Rape, Murder and Kidnapping. The newer systems of law classify crimes under degrees. The highest degree would be first degree, encompassing crimes like kidnapping, sexual assault and murder.  

Kinds of Punishment

For misdemeanors such as shoplifting or traffic violation, the defendant would be required to pay a fine. Some of the misdemeanors are awarded alternative sentences such as community service or rehab programs. For felonies, the defendant would be required to serve prison or jail time. Few of the misdemeanors are also punished by a jail term under one year.

Constitutional Rights

The most important part of the criminal law basics, which every citizen must be aware of, is the Constitutional Rights. The basic rights include:

  • the right to an attorney
  • the right to remain silent
  • the right for a jury trial
  • protection from illegal searches and seizure, etc

When caught for a crime, understanding these criminal law basics will help in getting a fair trial or treatment.


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