Criminal Law

Criminal law also known as penal law is a set of rules and regulations that define certain punishments for particular crimes or wrongs that are executed against the state or society. Throughout this document criminal laws purpose and sources, jurisdictions that create and enforce criminal law, the adversarial system and standards of proof in criminal cases, concepts of criminal liability and accomplice liability, and examples of inchoate will be discussed.

The Purpose of criminal law is for governments to create punishments that coincide with crimes for the intention of maintaining public order, establishing a set of public norms, and to create a level of predictability in human behavior. In addition, criminal law assists law enforcement officers with society’s expectation to create a safe environment for individuals, families, and property-business owners by punishing or rehabilitating wrongdoers. Criminal law was further designed to segregate criminal wrongs from civil wrongs, to deter individuals from committing illegal activity, determine guilt and innocence through use of the legal-criminal justice system, and to obtain some level of justice for victims and society (University of Phoenix, 2010).

The first and ultimate source of law in the United States is the Constitution. The Constitution was designed to set restrictions on governments regarding police power and places boundaries on governments when developing and implementing criminal laws that determine what is considered criminal conduct. Furthermore, the Constitution protects the personal liberties of all individuals legal and illegal in the United States through the Amendments. The second highest source of federal law is the U.S. Penal Code (University of Phoenix, 2010).

The third source of criminal law is created by Congress and State Legislatures. Congress and State Legislatures have the authority to define what is illegal. A vast majority of investigations conducted by law enforcement officers are for crimes against the state and more than 90% of felonies and misdemeanors are prosecuted in a state court.

Furthermore, cities and towns are allowed to create ordinances known as local laws and are empowered by the state to define and punish crimes, such as misdemeanors and infractions.

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Jurisdiction is a specific geographical area in which a court has full power to hear criminal and civil cases and make decisions based on the case. Three different types of jurisdictions assist with the creation of common law and they are: legislative, executive, and judicial (University of Phoenix, 2010).

In the United States there are two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both are the primary federal law making body. Each state has its own legislative body that is allowed to develop and employ what the state considers to be criminal. Nearly all municipalities are operated under state law with restricted penal rule-making authority (University of Phoenix, 2010).

The President of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer. All executive federal, state, and local bodies are vested under the President of the United States. Agencies, such as the CIA, FBI, or the U.S. Attorney, and state prosecutors detect, prevent, apprehend, and prosecute all individual suspected of criminal activity (University of Phoenix, 2010).

Judicial review allows the courts to examine the actions of the executive and legislative bodies, and determine if the executive and legislative actions are unconstitutional. Courts review both civil and criminal cases, settle legal disputes, evaluate specific criminal investigations, oversee the prosecution of cases before and after charges are filed, and protect civil liberties (University of Phoenix, 2010).

The Adversarial system follows the Due Process of Law and requires that all law enforcement officers, departments, and prosecutors to follow the formal process right from the very beginning stages of a case. The adversarial system believes the best means to establish the truth and prove innocence or guilt is through an effective means of debate between the prosecutor and the defense. Prosecutors and defense analyze and present facts during the case to assist with the accomplishment of this goal (Answers, 2010).

Once a prosecutor takes the necessary steps to file an action, the prosecutor is left with the responsibility of proving to the court guilt exists. The burden of proof demands prosecutors prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a standard required for all criminal trials. Reasonable doubt defined is a substantial level of doubt in the mind of a jury or judge as a result of lack of evidence. Furthermore, reasonable doubt leaves a judge or jury in a condition in which they cannot agree to a conviction (The Nizkor Project, 2009).

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In most circumstances in order for one to be held criminally liable prosecutors must prove three essential elements exist within the crime. Actus reus the criminal act, mens rea the guilty mind, and a concurrence of the two. Other elements taking into consideration are causation, a resulting harm, principle of legality, and necessary attendant circumstances. One concept is harm or a result that ends in a harmful manner (Shestokas, 2008).

For an individual to be held accountable with accomplice liability the individual must know the criminals-principles intentions. Furthermore, the individual must willingly and knowingly assist the principle before or after the criminal act by aiding, abetting, promoting, facilitating, or encouraging. The major difference between accomplice liability and criminal liability is criminal liability focuses on the principle while accomplice liability targets an assistant of the principle (University of Phoenix, 2010).

Inchoate crimes also known as anticipatory crimes are crimes either unfinished or involve actions that lead to steps toward another crime. Solicitation, conspiracy, and attempt are considered inchoate crimes.

According to Dressler for one to be charged with attempt of a crime an individual must take action in a six step series toward committing the crime. The individual must conceive the idea, evaluate the idea, form an intention to move forward with the idea, prepare to commit the act, commence the acts necessary to complete the crime, and then finish the required defined actions by law as necessary to complete the crime. One does not have to complete the crime to be charged with attempt but rather display a level of necessary steps that would constitute the individuals willingness to accomplish his or her initial goal (University of Phoenix, 2010).

Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more individuals for the purpose of committing a crime or to accomplish a legal act through illegal means and must have a guilty intent on the defendant part. Two types of conspiracy exists, wheel conspiracy and chain conspiracy. Wheel conspiracy has one ring leader who communicates with other conspirators. Chain conspiracy follows a chain that allows an individual to deal with any individual who comes before them (University of Phoenix, 2010).

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Solicitation occurs when one individual encourages or requests another individual to carry out a criminal act. Criminal solicitation requires no overt act but does require the defendant’s mental state of intention for the hired party to commit the criminal act (University of Phoenix, 2010).

In the United States criminal law has a significant purpose as it forms a positive structure society can abide by. Without criminal law and the entities that help construct-maintain its use, society would be chaotic and law abiding citizens would be placed in constant fear from evil wrongdoers. This paper has examined the purpose and sources of criminal law, provided explanations of jurisdiction when creating criminal law, discussed the adversarial and standards of proof needed for one to be convicted of a crime, focused on criminal and accomplice liability, and defined-provided examples of inchoate crimes, such as conspiracy, solicitation, and attempt. The result is a system of web like laws that assist with the development of the criminal justice-legal system.


Answers. (2010). Adversarial System. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from

The Nizkor Project. (2009). Fallacy: Burden of Proof. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from

Shestokas, D. (2008). Principles of Criminal Liability: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from

University of Phoenix. (2010). Week one overview. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from University of Phoenix, Week One, rEsource. CJA343-Interdisciplanary Capstone Course Website.