In cases when offenses are committed that are detrimental to society, these are called crimes. It is a legal fiction, according to common law jurisdiction, that the peace of the sovereign is disturbed in crimes committed. Offenders of peace of the sovereign will be prosecuted by the government officials who are the agents of the sovereign. Under criminal law, the plaintiff refers to, in practical terms, as the monarch or the people.
Criminal law has its major objectives as deterrence and punishment, while civil law is concentrated on individual compensation. There are two distinct elements in a criminal offence and these are the physical act or the actus reur or guilty act, and the requisite mental state of which the act is done or mens rea or guilty mind. As an example in a murder case, the actus reus is the unlawful killing of the person, while the mens rea is the intention or malice to kill or cause grave injury to the person. In order to lessen or negate the criminal liability of the person who committed the offence, the criminal law would detail the defences of the defendants and this will determine the degree of the criminal liability of the person concern. It is not the nature of the criminal law to require a victim or a victim’s consent to prosecute the offender. Be informed also that the consent of the victim cannot be a defence in many crimes and a criminal prosecution can happen even with the objections of the victim.
Both in the common and civil law traditions, there are two fields that the criminal law is divided. First is that the criminal procedure would regulate the process in order to address the violations of criminal law. Another field is the substantive criminal law that specifies the definition of and punishments for in the different crimes.
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Crimes from civil wrongs such as tort or breach of contract are distinguished under criminal law. The criminal law therefore is a system that regulates the behaviour of individuals and groups in relation to societal norms as a whole, while civil law is directed primarily at the relationship between private individuals and their rights and obligations under the law. Several ancient legal systems did not clearly define the distinction between criminal and civil law until the nineteenth century. The English common criminal law of 1750 has become the basic course in criminal law in most U.S. law schools.
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The different kinds of criminal law are arrests and searches, drug crimes, juvenile law, drunk driving, parole, probation, pardons, violent crimes, white collar crimes and military law.
Note that criminal law is also known as penal law which is a term used to address to the different rule bodies in certain jurisdictions.