Nature of Crimes
Crimes are public wrongs- acts prohibited by the state or federal government. Typically classified as a felony or a misdemeanor:
Felony- A serious crimes such as murder, sexual assault and involve significant moral culpability on the offender’s part. These are punishable by lengthy prison sentences, fines, loss of voting rights, revoking of professional licenses. Misdemeanor- A lesser offense such as disorderly conduct or battery resulting in minor physical harm to the victim. These usually involve much less moral culpability by the offender than those of felony offenses. Punishable by lesser fines and confinement in prison.
Purpose of the Criminal Sanction
Under the utilitarian view people believe that prevention of socially undesirable behavior is the only purpose of criminal penalties. This goal of prevention includes three major components: deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.
Deterrence- Under this theory threat or imposition of punishment deters crimes in two ways: 1. Special Deterrence- when punishment of an offender deters him from committing further crimes 2. General Deterrence- when punishment of a wrongdoer deters other from committing similar offenses Factors influencing the effectiveness of deterrence are:
1. Likelyhood crime will be detected
2. That detection will be followed by prosecution
3. That Prosecution will result in conviction
4. The severity of the punishment is a key factor
Rehabilitation- Involves changing offenders attitudes or values so they are less inclined to commit future offenses.
Incapacitation- Incarcerating offenders so they are less likely to commit crimes while imprisoned.
Essentials of Crime
To convict a defendant of a crime the government must:
1. Demonstrate his alleged acts violated a criminal statute 2. Prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed those acts and 3. Prove that he had the capacity to form a criminal intent
Crimes are statutory offenses. A behavior is not a crime unless congress or state legislature has criminalized it.
Constitutional Limitations on Power to Criminalize Behavior
The US Constitution prohibits ex post facto criminal laws. This means that to be illegal the offenders act must have been illegal at the time of the offense and the penalty imposed must be the one provided for at the time of her offense.
Equal Protection Clause
This prohibits criminal statutes that treat certain persons of the same class or arbitrarily discriminate among different classes of people. -The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Fundamental safeguard is a defendant is innocent until proven guilty or the presumption of innocence. The Due Process Clauses require the government to overcome this presumption by proving all charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defendant’s Criminal Intent and Capacity
Most serious crimes required mens rea or criminal intent as an element. Proof that the defendant had the capacity to form the required criminal intent is a prerequisite of criminal responsibility. Criminal law recognizes three types of incapacity: intoxication, infancy, and insanity.
Criminal Prosecutions: An Overview
-Persons arrested for allegedly committing a crime are taken to the police station and booked. -Booking is an admin procedure for recording the suspect’s arrest. -After the booking police file an arrest report with the prosecutor who decides whether to charge the person with an offense -If she decides to prosecute she prepares a complaint
-The suspect is then taken to the judge for an initial appearance. During this appearance the judge informs the suspect of the charges against him and outlines the suspect’s constitutional rights. -In the case of a felony charge there is an additional preliminary hearing where the prosecutor must present enough evidence to...