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Criminal Law Overview

Navigation:  Home > Criminal Law > Criminal Law Overview


Criminal law is made up of the criminal laws themselves and the law of criminal procedure. The criminal law for the federal government and for every state sets out the legal rules of criminal conduct and the rules concerning how it is punished. The criminal law also contains specific rules of legal procedure which vary state to states - these laws are designed to allow the police and prosecutors to arrest and convict as many people as possible while drawing out lines of constitutional protection for the accused. 

Criminal law deals primarily with crimes committed against the state, i.e. with social crimes. Examples include murder, theft, larceny, arson, embezzlement, and rape. These crimes are prosecuted by either a state or federal officials, such as prosecutors or attorneys general. Criminal statutes determine which courts will hear what cases and who will prosecute those cases. In most cases, an act is a crime because the person committing it intended to do something wrong. This mental state is generally referred to as Mens rea, or guilty mind. Mens rea expresses a belief that people should be punished only when they have acted in a way that makes them morally blameworthy.

Criminal Procedure, on the other hand, deals with the methods used to deal with people accused of committing a crime, when they can be searched, when evidence can be seized, when eyewitnesses can be investigated. Criminal procedure is where search and seizure and arrest laws come into play - and is most likely what people associate with criminal lawyers on television. Criminal Procedure deals with a defendant's individual, constitution rights, which include the right to remain silent, the right to a speedy, public trial by a jury, the right to a competent attorney, and the defendant's right to confront his or her accuser. Criminal lawyers represent persons who have been charged with crimes.

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