- Laws are rules of conduct, usually found enacted in the form of statutes, that regulate relationships between people and also between parties. One of the primary functions of the law is the maintenance of public order. Laws also serve to regulate human interaction, enforce moral beliefs, define the economic environment of a society, enhance predictability, promote orderly social change, sustain individual rights, identify wrongdoers and redress wrongs, and mandate punishment and retribution. Because laws are made by those in power, and are influenced by those with access to power brokers, they tend to reflect and support the interest of society's most powerful members.
- The rule of law, which is sometimes also referred to as the supremacy of law, encompasses the principle that an orderly society must be governed by established principles and known codes that are applied uniformly and fairly to all its members. It means that no one is above the law, and it mandates that those who make or enforce the law must also abide by it. The rule of law is regarded as a vital underpinning in Western democracies, for without it disorder and chaos might prevail.
- This chapter identified various types of law, including criminal law, civil law, administrative law, case law, and procedural law. We were concerned primarily with criminal law, which is that form of the law that defines, and specifies punishments for, offenses of a public nature or for wrongs committed against the state or against society.
- Violations of the criminal law can be of many different types and can vary in severity. Five categories of violations were discussed in this chapter: (1) felonies, (2) misdemeanors, (3) offenses, (4) treason and espionage, and (5) inchoate offenses.
- From the perspective of Western jurisprudence, all crimes can be said to share certain features. Taken together, these features make up the legal essence of the concept of crime. The essence of crime consists of three conjoined elements: (1) the criminal act, which in legal parlance is termed the actus reus, (2) a culpable mental state or mens rea, and (3) a concurrence of the two. Hence, the essence of criminal conduct consists of the concurrence of a criminal act with a culpable mental state. Five additional principles, added to these three, allow us to fully appreciate contemporary understandings of crime. These five principles are (1) causation, (2) a resulting harm, (3) the principle of legality, (4) the principle of punishment, and (5) necessary attendant circumstances.
- Written laws specify exactly what conditions are required for a person to be charged in a given instance of criminal activity. Hence, the elements of a crime are specific legal aspects of a criminal offense that the prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction. Guilt can be demonstrated, and criminal offenders convicted, only if all of the statutory elements of the particular crime that has been charged can be proved in court.
- Our legal system recognizes four broad categories of defenses to a criminal charge: (1) alibi, (2) justifications, (3) excuses, and (4) procedural defenses. An alibi, if shown to be valid, means that the defendant could not have committed the crime in question because he or she was not present at the time of the crime. When a defendant offers a justification as a defense, he or she admits committing the act in question but claims that it was necessary to avoid some greater evil. A defendant who offers an excuse as a defense claims that some personal condition or circumstance at the time of the act was such that he or she should not be held accountable under the criminal law. Procedural defenses make the claim that the defendant was in some significant way discriminated against in the justice process or that some important aspect of official procedure was not properly followed in the investigation or prosecution of the crime charged.