Sources and Purposes of Criminal Law

Topics: Law, Constitution, Statute Pages: 7 (784 words) Published: April 29, 2014
Identify the sources and purposes of criminal law.
Kristi Adams
April 9th, 2014

If you had to choose between

(1) killing one person to save the lives of five
others and
(2) doing nothing, even though you knew
that five people would die right before your
eyes if you did nothing—what would you do?
What would be the right thing to do?

You are the driver of a light rail car when the
brakes fail.

You can steer the rail car.

Ahead on the track are five workers.

To the right on a rail spur is one worker.

What do you do? Why?

You are now standing on a bridge overlooking
the runaway rail car.

You notice five workers in the rail car’s path.

Next to you, close to the edge of the bridge is a
big man.

If you push him, he will hit the tracks and stop
the train.

What do you do? Why?

Many sources of law exist as guideposts.

Divine Law
Natural Law
Administrative Law
Common law and case law

Divine law

Over the ages, beliefs as to the sources of law
have changed. Early in human history, laws
were thought to be sent from God and were
usually announced by some religious official.
These were known as Divine Laws and were
often asserted by kings, who said they had a
God-given right to make laws.

Natural Law
Developed later. These were rules considered
so basic to human nature that no society could
exist without them.
The murder of another person would be
contrary to natural law. Many natural laws have
been more formally expressed by written

Man-made law
Statutes are laws passed by the legislative
branches of government (Congress in the
federal government or state legislatures in
each state).
They may be added, repealed, or changed
much more easily than constitutions, and
therefore are more easily adjusted to
changing circumstances.

The United States (federal government), in addition to each state within the United States, has a constitution which sets out broad principles of law that must be obeyed by all those living under it, including the government itself.

For example, both the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona
Constitution guarantee criminal defendants due process of law. These constitutions may be amended only through a timeconsuming process that requires the consent of a large portion of the people.
Constitutions are intended to give stability to government so that rules and forms of government may not be changed quickly
during brief political, social or economic upheavals.

Agencies are established by state and some local
governments to deal with problems that cannot
be efficiently handled by the state legislatures
because they require technical expertise and
detailed regulation.
Examples of these agencies in Arizona are the
Department of Transportation, the Department of
Education, the Department of Economic Security.
Feds – Social Security Administration, FAA

Smaller government units than the state-counties, cities, towns, or villages--have the power to enact laws affecting their local area.
These laws, known as ordinances, usually
apply to such strictly local situations as
zoning or bicycle registration.

Common law is a system of rules built up
over the years by the decisions of judges in
cases decided by them.
Since thousands of cases each year are
decided by judges, each one of those
decisions establishes a certain legal rule,
known as case law.

Cases decided by an appeals court or higher are
usually published. These cases are especially
important to lawyers and judges, who read them
to find a case similar to one in dispute.
A prior case ruling is called “precedent” and
judges are generally bound to follow precedent.

This application of prior case law to a similar
case is known as...
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