Why Limits Are Imposed on Criminal Laws

Topics: Law, Criminal law, United States Constitution Pages: 3 (709 words) Published: October 30, 2012
Darien Anthony
10/11/2012
Criminal justice 1
Why limits are imposed on Criminal Laws

The founding of criminal law on the principle of rule of law means that the power of government is limited. Unlike royalty in the Middle Ages, which had limitless absolute power, governments are limited in the behavior that can be declared criminal and in the punishments that can be applied for violations of criminal laws. Seven benchmarks are used to assess the legality of criminal laws: * Principle of legality

* Ex post facto laws
* Due process
* Right to privacy
* Void for over breadth
* Cruel and unusual punishment
Principle of legality refers to a principle that a person may not be prosecuted under a criminal law that has not been previously published. Before a man can be punished as a criminal under the law, his case must be 'plainly and unmistakably’ within the provisions of some statute. Ex post facto is a Latin term meaning "from a thing done afterward." Ex post facto often refers to a law that applies retroactively, thereby criminalizing conduct that was legal when originally performed. The U.S. Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws. However, the Supreme Court has held that that the prohibition of retroactive laws applies only to criminal, not civil, laws. A sentencing law violates the ex post facto prohibition if it operates both retrospectively and to the potential disadvantage of the defendant. This is not limited to substantive changes in the content and criteria of legal rules. Restrictions on the extent of favorable discretion that a court can exercise are within the ex post facto prohibition, too. The ex post facto clause generally prohibits states from enacting any law that “changes The punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime, when it was committed.” For example, sex offender registration laws have been held not to violate the ex post facto clause on the basis that they are not...
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