Criminal law involves different rules that can cause the prosecution of a person for acts identified as crimes by the government. People found guilty of committing a criminal act would be incarcerated, fined, or both. Committing a crime means violating public laws which are established by the federal government, the state or the local government. These include felonies such as murder and rape as well as misdemeanors such as petty theft or jaywalking. Most felonies are punishable by one to two years imprisonment while misdemeanors are punishable by less than a year inside the slammer or other lighter punishments such as community services depending on the weight and kind of crime committed.
Ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians were the first to write codes of laws but did not distinguish civil and criminal laws. Most violations of the written laws were punished accordingly by physical punishment such as whipping or caning, incarceration which may vary from a day to life, house arrest, paying damages, or execution. As the written laws developed and distinguished civil laws from criminal laws, criminal sanctions are enforced according to five objectives:
- Retribution - the aspect of making criminals pay for the crime they committed by placing them at some unpleasant disadvantage
- Deterrence - this aims to sufficiently penalize offender to discourage him and other offenders from committing the crime and other criminal behavior
- Incapacitation - criminals are taken away from the society so that the public can be safe from them. Prison sentences as well as death penalties serve this purpose.
- Rehabilitation - involves transforming an offender into a better citizen
- Restitution - this aims to repair any hurt inflicted to the victim by the offender such as paying for damaged properties or embezzled money.
The different crimes that fall under the criminal law statutes include:
- Appellate law
- White Collar Crime
- Healthcare fraud
- Government fraud
- Tax evasion
- Violent crime
- Theft/property crime
- Drug crime
- Juvenile crime
- Child abuse crime
In the United States, prosecutions for criminal law offenses are initiated by complaints issued by a judge or an indictment issued by a grand jury. However, felonies in Federal courts require indictment or a formal accusation based on the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Furthermore, the Sixth Amendment provides the criminal defendant with a right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State in both state and Federal courts, to be informed of the nature and cause of accusations, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to obtain witnesses in his favor, and to be given a right to a Counsel for his defense but can defend himself and act as his own lawyer.