Week 4: The Criminal Law in the U.S. The work of the Criminal Justice system is fundamentally determined by the criminal law The criminal law is a political construction Created in legal codes (law on the books) Applied in legal decisions (law in action) A. What does criminal law involve? 1. Note different types of legal controls: Criminal Law (wrongful/harmful acts against society or community) Civil Law (harmful acts between individuals)
Also known as Torts Administrative law (other harmful individualcommunity relations) Also known as Regulatory law A. What criminal law involves? (cont) Division into two Components: 1) Substantive Criminal Law: Specifies the offenses (what counts as a crime) Specifies the punishments (sanctions) 2) Procedural Criminal Law: Specifies how CJ process operates in accusing, prosecuting, and punishing offenders. Specifies the procedures and criteria for the process Note the issue of jurisdiction for CJ process
A. What criminal law involves? (cont) Sources of the Criminal? 1. Constitutional Law Found in fundamental or charter documents Mainly sets limits on criminal law (procedural) 2. Statutory Law Main criminal law located in the Criminal Codes Legislative enactments Both substantive and procedural law 3. Case Law From judicial decisions (mainly appellate) Mainly procedural
A. What criminal law involves? (cont) U.S. = Not a single CJ system but 51+ independent systems -- 50 states + federal Legal jurisdictions are substantially separate Why so many different legal systems? The U.S. was created as a confederation of states (with a weak central government) Shift over time toward greater federalization and unification But basic concept of state sovereignty remains and periodically reasserted
B. How did the criminal law develop? Note: it evolved (not formally created) Historical roots of U.S. Criminal Law Common Law what is that?
Ancient legal systems: Babylonian, Hebrew, Roman English Common Law as the immediate ancestor Derived from English law and political history Unification of English law in middle ages by cooptation Law enforced by Circuit Justices who made law & applied law by incorporating traditional customs Development of common law through Judicial decisions (principle of stare decisis or reliance on precedent) Adopted by all U.S. colonies B. How did criminal law develop? (cont) Development of Criminal Law in American Colonies
Adoption of English common law tradition/procedures Retention of States sovereignty & legal systems Limited authority/jurisdiction granted to federal government Greater codification of law Conversion of custom into written statutory law But continued reliance on stare decisis (reliance on judicial precedents) C. How is criminal law created and changed?
1. Constitutional Amendments 2. Legislative changes to criminal codes may add, modify, repeal statutes overhaul or replace the codes? 3. Judicial decisions That interpret, apply, or reinterpret the law in specific cases That create precedents for later cases D. Basic concepts of U.S. criminal law? Legal definition of a Crime: a willful and harmful act that violates a criminal law and is condemned & punished by the state. Components of the legal definition:
Explicit law (specifying wrongful behavior) Harmful act (actus reus) Criminal intent (mens rea) Also jurisdiction (authority of state to enforce law) Note different levels of criminal violations Felonies (major crimes) Misdemeanors (minor crimes) Infractions (petty offenses) D. Basic legal concepts (continued) Note that criminal defenses generally focus on some aspect of the legal definition of a Crime Defenses often focus on lack of criminal intent a) Knowledge (awareness) b) Volition (willfulness)
(Criminal action is knowing and willful) Legal Justifications lack of free will or choice due to external circumstances (e.g., self-defense) Legal Excuses lack of knowledge or self-control due to internal factors (e.g., intoxication) D. Basic legal concepts (continued) Two defenses of special note (they involve special procedures): Immaturity a special juvenile justice system Insanity a special verdict 20th century evolution in these two defenses:
Invention of Juvenile court in 1899 Expansion of Insanity defense in 20th century Recent evolution in these two defenses? Reversals and reductions in both The Insanity Defense as special defense: Basic Issue = lack of mens rea due to mental impairment or incapacity to act rationally Elements of mens rea = cognition and volition Can lead to Special Verdicts: Not-Guilty-by-Reason-of-Insanity (NGRI) Guilty-but-Mentally-Ill (GBMI)
Formal Rules for deciding legal insanity MNaghten Rule (cognition) Irresistible Impulse Rule (volition) American Law Institute Rule (both/either) Recent trends?
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