Criminal Law

State and federal criminal laws define what conduct is considered a crime. A criminal act requires a guilty act (actus reus) combined with a guilty mind (mens rea).


The primary goal of punishment is to deter future offenses. Two main theories of punishment are individual and general deterrence.


It is the duty of the government to prosecute people who break laws. The government employs police and prosecutors to do this. This is a public service, and it is funded with taxpayer dollars. The United States Attorney and individual Assistant Attorney Generals are authorized to establish their own prosecution priorities, in order to focus their resources on problems of particular local or regional significance.

In criminal law, it is the prosecutor’s job to demonstrate that an individual committed a crime by establishing all elements of that offense beyond a reasonable doubt. These include the act itself (the actus reus); the individual’s mental state at the time of the offense (mens rea); and causation, either direct or indirect, between the act and the injury or death of another person.

The degree of culpability must also be considered. A prosecutor may reasonably assess the likelihood of a conviction, and decide to proceed with prosecution despite his/her negative assessment based on factors extraneous to an objective view of the law and facts.

In addition, a prosecutor must also consider the fact that some crimes involve multiple perpetrators. In such cases, the prosecution must be able to establish that all individuals who participated in the offense possessed the required mens rea and acted in furtherance of the crime or were otherwise responsible for it. This is known as aiding and abetting or conspiracy.


The trial of criminals is a structured process wherein the facts of a case are presented to a jury, and they decide whether a defendant is guilty or not of the charges offered. During the trial, the prosecutor, who represents the state, has the burden to prove that the defendant committed the crime(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense, represented by an attorney, has the right to present evidence and call witnesses to testify. Both sides may question and cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

Defendants have the right to choose whether they want a jury or bench trial. Often, defendants will opt for a jury trial so that a jury of their peers will decide on their guilt or innocence. However, there are certain cases where a defendant’s attorney will recommend a bench trial without a jury.

Before a trial starts, both the defense and prosecution will deliver opening statements. During these statements, the attorneys will explain the nature of their cases and inform the court of any relevant evidence they expect to present at trial. The judge will then issue a charge to the jury, and they will go into deliberation. During this time, nobody associated with the trial can contact members of the jury. Afterwards, the judge will issue his or her verdict. If the jury is unanimous, then a defendant will be found guilty.


Unlike civil law, which deals with disputes between private parties, criminal law punishes people for crimes committed against society. For instance, if someone assaults another person, the victim of that crime reports it to the police and then the state prosecutes the offender in court through a system called public prosecution. This is done in the interest of protecting the community. Criminal laws are passed to look after public interests and to ensure peace and good order in society. The police and the prosecutor are employed by the state to put these laws into effect.

Criminal law punishes offenders by imposing fines or imprisonment. In some countries, they also impose corporal punishment such as whipping or caning for the most serious offences. In addition, they may order restitution to victims and compensation for property losses. Some of the main goals of criminal law are rehabilitation, restoration and deterrence. Rehabilitation aims to turn offenders into useful members of society, while restoration focuses on returning the offender’s position in society to what it was before the crime. Deterrence is the idea that criminal sanctions are meant to discourage individuals from committing crimes in the future.

One of the biggest concerns of scholars who study criminal justice is whether a particular system of punishment is just. This concern arises partly from the fact that some of the questions relating to punishment’s justification imply broader questions about the political, legal and moral conditions on which the operation of the criminal justice system as a whole depends (see for example Husak 2008; Ristroph 2015). Another concern is that reductive accounts of retribution lead to all-encompassing condemnations of offenders, rather than focusing on their specific offences, and thus contribute to overcriminalisation and overly harsh sentences.


A criminal lawyer can charge a flat fee, an hourly rate or a combination of both. In general, it is best to hire an attorney who charges a flat fee. It will save you money in the long run because you won’t have to worry about how much time your lawyer is spending on your case. Hourly attorneys will bill for everything, even short phone calls or emails asking your attorney for a status update. It is a good idea to avoid hiring hourly lawyers unless you’re absolutely sure that the work you need done is urgent and can’t be delayed.

A system of fines and fees is meant to punish offenses, deter certain behaviors and recover some administrative costs. But this system often exacerbates existing inequalities in the criminal legal system. In addition, research suggests that onerous financial penalties do little to deter crime. And for people who are unable to pay, they can prolong their involvement in the justice system and face a series of unintended consequences, such as license suspensions and difficulty finding jobs and housing.

Further, the full cost of imposing, collecting and enforcing fees and fines goes largely unmeasured. This is because state and local law enforcement agencies spend too much time focusing on chasing down warrants for unpaid fines and fees rather than more important community safety work. Furthermore, court systems and local governments use poor data automation practices that make it difficult to keep up with current case data on amounts waived, credited, paid or owed.