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Chapter 1. Fundamentals of Criminal Law and Procedure. Introduction. Constitutional supremacy – constitution is the supreme law of the land and that all actions and policies of government must be consistent with it. Federalism.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Fundamentals of Criminal Law and Procedure


  • Constitutional supremacy–constitution is the supreme law of the land and that all actions and policies of government must be consistent with it.


  • Federalism – constitutional distribution of government power and responsibility between the national government and the states.

Separation of powers
Separation of powers

  • Separation of powers – constitutional assignment of legislative, executive, and judicial powers to different branches of government.

What is crime
What is Crime?

  • A crime is defined as a wrong against society

  • A strictly defined behavior which is prohibited by law.

Elements to a crime
Elements to a Crime

  • All crimes involve two components:

    • Actus reus – wrongful act

    • Mens rea – wrongful act accompanied by criminal intent.


  • If it is defined as a crime (strictly prohibited behavior) does that make the prohibited conduct wrong?

Felonies and misdemeanors
Felonies and Misdemeanors

  • Felony – serious crimes. Can be imprisoned for more than 1 year. (ex: murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, grand larceny, arson).

  • Misdemeanors –less serious offenses. Jail terms of less than 1 year. (ex: petit theft, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, prostitution, gambling, simple assault and battery).

Crime an injury against society
Crime: An Injury against Society

  • Our legal system regards crimes no merely as wrongs against particular victims but as offenses against the entire society.

  • The government, who is society’s legal representative, brings charges against persons accused of committing crimes.

Criminal responsibility
Criminal Responsibility

  • Criminal law is predicated on the concept that individuals are responsible for their actions and must be accountable for them.

  • Society also recognizes that certain individuals, such as children, lack the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct.

  • Factors beyond individuals’ control may lead them to commit criminal acts.

  • There are situations in which acts that would otherwise be criminal might be justified (ex: self-defense).

Civil and criminal law
Civil and Criminal Law

  • Breach of Contract – When a party to a contract violates the terms of the agreement.

  • Tort – A wrongful act that does not violate any enforceable agreement but violates a legal right of the injured party (ex: wrongful death, wrongful destruction of property, trespass, and defamation of character).

Substantive and procedural criminal law
Substantive and Procedural Criminal Law

  • Substantive Criminal Law – defines criminal offenses, defenses, and specifies criminal punishments.

  • Procedural Criminal Law – regulates the enforcement of the substantive law, determination of guilt, and punishment of those found guilty of crimes.

Origins and sources of the criminal law
Origins and Sources of theCriminal Law

  • Mala in se – inherent wrongs (ex: murder, rape, robbery, & arson).

  • Mala prohibita – these are offenses only because they are defined by law.

Development of the english common law
Development of the English Common Law

  • English common law – American criminal law is derived from English common law. This dates from the eleventh century.

  • Stare decisis – deciding cases based on precedent.

State and local authority
State and Local Authority

  • Statutes – applicable law enacted by legislature.

    They are the principal actors in defining crimes and punishments.

  • Ordinances – enactment of a local governing body (city council or commission).

Model penal code
Model Penal Code

  • Model Penal Code – consists of general provisions concerning criminal liability, sentences, defenses, and definitions of specific crimes. MPC is not law, it is designed as a model code of criminal law for all states.

Role of courts in developing criminal law
Role of Courts in Developing Criminal Law

  • Decisional Law – Law declared by appellate courts in their written decisions and opinions.

  • Error Correction Function – The task to correct errors of a lower tribunal.

  • Lawmaking Function – This is not the principal function of an appellate court, referred to as the law development function.

Constitutional limitations on the criminal justice system
Constitutional Limitations on the Criminal Justice System

  • An expost facto law is a law which:

    • Retroactively makes a previously innocent act illegal

    • Retroactively increase the punishment for a specific crime

    • Retroactively decreases the burden of proof required for conviction of a crime

Bill of rights
Bill of Rights

  • Bill of Rights – a written document of basic rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution adopted by Congress in 1789 and ratified by the states in 1791.

Due process
Due Process

  • Due Process of Law – those procedural and substantive safeguards necessary to ensure the fundamental fairness of a legal proceeding.

  • Requires fair notice and fair hearing

  • What else might be required?

Presumption of innocence
Presumption of Innocence

  • Reasonable doubt – defendant is presumed innocent and that the prosecution must establish the defendant’s guilt.

  • Presumption of innocence – presumed is innocent until proven guilty.

The goals of sentencing
The Goals of Sentencing

Retribution – criminal must pay for wrongs against society. Criminals given their “just deserts”.

Deterrence – punishing criminal for their crimes can prevent others from committing the same offenses.

Incapacitation – prevent the criminal from committing additional crimes.

Rehabilitation – changing the offender so they can function in civil society without resorting to criminal behavior.

Criminal punishment
Criminal Punishment

Types of Criminal punishment:

Death Penalty – reserved for most aggravated murders.

Incarceration – for persons convicted of felonies. Imprisoned from one year to life.

Monetary fines – most common punishment for misdemeanors.

Criminal punishment1
Criminal Punishment

Restitution – criminals paying sums of money to their victims.

Probation – usually for first time offenders. Conditional release of a convicted criminal in lieu of incarceration.

House arrest – offender is allowed to leave home only for employment and approved community service activities.

Types of criminal punishment continued
Types of Criminal punishment continued:

Community Service – criminal performs specific service to the community for a period of time.

Pretrial diversion program – criminal completes a program of counseling or service.

Loss of Civil Rights – losing the right to vote and to hold public office. They can keep theirfundamental constitutional rightssuch as expressing their religious beliefs.

Chapter 1
Should Morality, in and of itself, be considered as a sufficient basis for defining particular conduct as criminal?