For most people what they think criminal law is comes from movies, television and books.
Take any crime television show. The first portion always relates to a crime that was committed. This part of the show focuses on the police and detective work involved in trying to solve the crime and gather evidence to prove their case against the accused. Then the show focuses on the legal system and how criminal law applies to the case. Then we reach a conclusion in the courtroom.
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A crime is committing any act which is in violation of the law.
Federal and state laws determine what behavior is illegal . The State or the Federal government decides what conduct to punish, and what punishment is appropriate. Accordingly, punishments vary with the severity of the offense—from a simple fine to a complete and total loss of freedom.
This body of laws is different from civil law.
In a civil case two individuals dispute their individual rights.
In a criminal case the State or Federal government brings the case against the individual who has committed a crime.
Society looks to the criminal justice system to deter crime, to reform and punish the offender and to prevent future crimes.
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There are two types of criminal laws: misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is an offense that is considered a less serious criminal offense, such as minor assaults, traffic offenses, or petty theft. The penalty for a misdemeanor crime is less than one year in custody.
Related: What is petty theft?
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Felony crimes involve more serious offenses. Murder, manslaughter, dealing drugs, rape, robbery, and arson. Felonies carry a penalty of more than one year in custody depending upon the particular nature of the offense.
All criminal law statutes require proof of two distinct parts. The mens rea, the mental state that one must possess when committing a crime.
And the actus reus. The action taken by the one committing the crime.