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Criminal Law


Rules of law set the standard of conduct for people to follow. When a person disobeys a law, he is susceptible to two possible consequences. One consequence is punishment by the government for his crime, and the other is the possibility of a civil lawsuit for damages sustained by the victim of the crime. Damages sustained by a victim are governed by principles of tort law which we will discuss in the next chapter.

A crime is an offense against the government. It is a breach of a duty to the public. It is conduct that is prohibited and punished by a government. Each state has its own set of statutory criminal laws. However, these statutes are very similar.

Criminal Law Highlights

Crimes are often classified in terms of their seriousness as felonies and misdemeanors. An act may be a felony in one state and a misdemeanor in another.

Felonies include serious crimes such as arson, murder and robbery, for example. Crimes not classified as treason or felonies are misdemeanors and include such things as reckless driving and disturbing the peace.

In most crimes, motive or intent to commit the crime is not a necessary element. All that is necessary is that the defendant voluntarily did the act that the law defines as a crime. Something can be a crime even if the wrongdoer has no knowledge that a law has been broken.

Generally, when one thinks of a crime, he thinks of an act which causes harm to another person. However, there are many crimes that are committed without harm to others. For example, a person may be guilty of speeding or reckless driving even though no one is hurt. In such a case, society has decided that such an action should be prohibited because of its potential to harm others.