What is Criminal law?

Criminal law (also known as penal law) is the body
of law that punishes criminals for committing
offences against the state. The goal of this process
is that of achieving criminal justice.

According to criminal law, crimes are offences
against the social order. In common law
jurisdictions, there is a legal fiction that crimes
disturb the peace of the sovereign. Government
officials, as agents of the sovereign, are
responsible for the prosecution of offenders.
Hence, the criminal law "plaintiff" is the sovereign,
which in practical terms translates into the
monarch or the people.

The major objective of criminal law is deterrence
and punishment, while that of civil law is individual
compensation. Criminal offences consist of two
distinct elements; the physical act (the actus reus,
guilty act) and the requisite mental state with which
the act is done (the mens rea, guilty mind). For
example, in murder the 'actus reus is the unlawful
killing of a person, while the 'mens rea is malice
aforethought (the intention to kill or cause
grievous injury). The criminal law also details the
defenses that defendants may bring to lessen or
negate their liability (criminal responsibility) and
specifies the punishment which may be inflicted.
Criminal law neither requires a victim, nor a
victim's consent, to prosecute an offender.
Furthermore, a criminal prosecution can occur
over the objections of the victim and the consent
of the victim is not a defense in most crimes.

Criminal law in most jurisdictions both in the
common and civil law traditions is divided into two
fields:

* Criminal procedure regulates the process for
addressing violations of criminal law
* Substantive criminal law details the definition of,
and punishments for, various crimes.

Criminal law distinguishes crimes from civil wrongs
such as tort or breach of contract. Criminal law has
been seen as a system of regulating the behavior
of individuals and groups in relation to societal
norms at large whereas civil law is aimed primarily
at the relationship between private individuals and
their rights and obligations under the law.
Although many ancient legal systems did not
clearly define a distinction between criminal and
civil law, in England there was little difference until
the codification of criminal law occurred in the late
nineteenth century. In most U.S. Law schools, the
basic course in criminal law is based upon the
English common criminal law of 1750 (with some
minor American modifications like the clarification
of mens rea in the Model Penal Code).
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