What is Criminal Law?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 May 2019
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Criminal law is a branch of law that concerns crimes that are committed against the public authority. It is distinct from civil law, which involves crimes people commit against each other, not necessarily against the public as a whole. Murder, for example, is a criminal matter because, although there is a specific victim, murder in general runs against the interests of the public. By contrast, if someone fails to honor a contract, this is a matter for civil law.

Substantive criminal law deals with the definitions of various crimes that are covered by the criminal code, while procedural law is concerned with the prosecution of said crimes. Procedural law may also include sentencing recommendations that are designed to be used in the event that a victim is convicted of committing a crime. Under many criminal codes, convictions can only be obtained when the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did indeed commit the crime.

Three broad types of crimes appear in the criminal code: misdemeanors, felonies, and treason. Treason is of particular concern because it not only violates the public interest, but also threatens national security and the welfare of the nation itself, which is why treason is accompanied with such severe penalties. Misdemeanors are relatively minor crimes, while felonies are more serious crimes which may accompanied with severe mandatory sentences.


In every nation, the ideal is to deter criminals from committing acts that violate the interests of the public or the nation, and deterrence is a major feature of the criminal code. Given that reducing the crime rate to zero is unlikely, the code also deals with the proper containment and management of criminals, including rehabilitation of people who commit criminal acts. Measures for some form of punishment are also a key part of the law, warning people who consider engaging in criminal activity that their actions have consequences, and for some types of crime, restitution to victims and their families may also be built into the law.

Also known as penal law, criminal law is used all over the world to establish basic codes of conduct for citizens and as the basis of a legal system. Some lawyers specialize in criminal matters, whether they are prosecutors or defenders, and this type of law also lays the groundwork that allows police forces, courts, and other aspects of the legal system to function.


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Post 9

Can someone please tell me how the law deals with e-crime, because I have an assessment and I'm doing it on the law and e-crime. Technology has evolved so much over time and I want to know what it's done for the law.

Post 8

I have a question about this, then. Say my friend violates criminal law, so he decides he needs to contact criminal lawyers in Kelowna. If he had committed a civil crime, would he still use a criminal lawyer or are there civil lawyers for this? I'm sorry if this is simple. I just don't know that I've heard of a civil lawyer, or if I have, I didn't make the distinction between the two.

Post 4

Sneakers41- I just want to say that I think that the 10-20-life law is a good one. I also think that Jessica’s law is also a necessary law to deter suspects from harming children.

I believe Florida adopted the toughest version of this law by offering a mandatory 25 year sentence to anyone molesting a child under the age of 12.

Then Governor Jeb Bush signed this piece of legislation into law in 2005. This law is very popular in Florida, since it was the origin of the crime that sparked the law in the first place.

Post 3

Great article- I just want to add that the state of Florida offers specific sentencing guidelines for felony offenses.

For third degree felonies the maximum sentence is five years, while those that are convicted of second degree felonies can serve up to fifteen years in prison. First degree felonies offer up to thirty years in jail.

Florida also has a 10-20-Life law that offers mandatory sentences for those found guilty of a using a hand gun during a commission of a crime.

The first offense like its name indicates offers a mandatory sentence of 10 years, and the second offense offers a mandatory sentence of twenty years. If there is a third offense the mandatory sentence would

be life in prison if the assailant is found guilty.

The 10-20-Life law was put on the books to deter violent crimes because too many people were being hurt with hand guns. While the incidence of crime has not entirely been eliminated, the use of hand guns has diminished considerably and so has the incidences of violent crime.

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