Criminal Justice System in USA.


Criminal law is a division of law that elucidates crimes, describes about their nature and defines available punishment for a criminal offense. There is a clear distinction between a civil law and a criminal law. The main intention of a criminal law is to safeguard society. One of the famous maxims about criminal law is that the punishment must fit the crime

Deterrence theory argues that the quantum of punishment should be the minimum demanded to attain the required degree of deterrence. Retributive theory argues that quantum of punishment should be related to the degree of harm inflicted. Reform theory argues that the quantum of punishment should be sufficient enough to cause a reform in the minds of wrongdoer.

This research essay discuss in detail about the criminal justice system in America in general.

A Definition of Criminal Law

Criminal law is a division of law that elucidates crimes, describes about their nature and defines available punishment for a criminal offense.

Substantive criminal law is classified in to two divisions: the general division and the special division. The general division deals with fundamental philosophy of culpability that is applicable to all crimes including definition about how crimes and defenses should be delineated. The special division describes about the specific crimes like robbery, theft, rape and murder. The general division is more concerned with how the state can define accountability for specific crimes. It is significant to understand more about general division of criminal law as it will be giving an overall view on criminal behaviors that the state may try to prevent by criminal law, like burning the property of another without any reasons or homicide.

Again, criminal law can be categorized into two group’s viz. procedural and vital criminal law. A procedural law prescribes limit on how the government may encroach an individual’s privileges when a person is charged with a crime. Fourth and Fifth amendments U.S.A’s Constitution offer plenty of safeguards to individuals during their interactions with the police. A substantive criminal law is one which describe the types of conduct supposed illegal and describes the lists of punishment to be inflicted for infringement of such substantive laws. (Mack, 1999, p.8).

Crime is a feature that is always present in the society of United States and in other countries and can be termed as of ubiquitous nature. It interferes immorally with the quest of the good life, humiliating, in many ways and both the wrongdoers and their victims. However, a state has the duty to maintain a crime free, a well-ordered society.

A criminal law can be termed as one which is framed to address the issues of the behavior of the individuals. A criminal law also concerns with the morality. A criminal law can be defined as a central institution for responding to crime, but majority of the paths in the criminal law do not confer much attention to the “crime” issues.

A criminal law is designed to have multifaceted functions in this complex society. Further, if there is a violation of rules of conduct by an individual, violator is to be declared as criminally liable. Further, if liability is inflicted, the criminal law is to decide the ‘grade” or range of punishment to be given.

Further Criminal Act also defines what act will be considered as criminal act and an individual may use this definition to confine their actions to shun criminal conduct. In other words, a criminal act defines what a criminal act is and what is not and hence, an individual can adjust their conduct so they do not infringe the laws. In a nutshell, a criminal act is one which defines what kinds of actions are “out of limits”, and punishment for those deeds and hence the players will be within their boundaries.

The criminal law draws a clear boundary line between admissible and inadmissible conduct, and these demarcation help the citizens to administer their conduct, so that they do not infringe the laws.

It is to be noted that ignorance does not justify unlawful conduct. In other words, this rule acts as a useful ways of making an inducement for citizens to gain knowledge of the laws.

There is a clear distinction between a civil law and a criminal law. For instance, a tort is civil offense unleashed against an individual whereas a crime is considered as on offense committed against public even though only one person may have been affected. In the case of civil law, an individual can initiate action for getting a relief. For example, in a tort, an individual or his representative may initiate action against wrongdoer. Under criminal law, a wrongdoer is being prosecuted by the state itself. However, if a person has committed a crime, a plaintiff may initiate a criminal action against him and also he can file a civil suit to claim damages if he is entitled for the same under law

According to John Coffee, a legal critic, the special of feature of federal criminal law is that it does not prescribe any demarcating line between a civil and a criminal law. Hence , under Federal criminal law, a number of deeds that may not fall under the prototype of a criminal action , for wide reasons , been criminalized so that they may be imputed the penalties that are only available within the criminal justice system.

In an ex ante style, nationals need to aware these codes and these laws are to function smoothly and for instance, if an individual who is aware of the site of a felon, he has to report the same to the police, as criminal code demands such conduct from citizens. Further, if the criminal act requires an individual to assist another individual whose life is at stake, then for the code to guide the behavior of the probable rescuer as he has to know that the code demands that helping attitude.

The Model Penal Code was published in 1962 in an effort to legislate uniform criminal laws by the American Law Institute which has been adopted by 36 states in U.S.A. (Carlsmith 2001).

The main intention of a criminal law is to safeguard the society. One of the famous maxims about criminal law is that the punishment must fit the crime. In U.S.A, there are two types of criminal law namely federal and states criminal law. Federal criminal law pertains to involve a ‘federal interest.’ If a criminal act extends beyond state borders, like mail fraud, then it falls under federal criminal act as it affects interstate commerce. (Mack, 1999, p.8).

Definition of Crime

To constitute a crime, there must be an overt act or actus reus which must be followed by mens rea or a criminal intent or by such carelessness as is considered by law as corresponding to a criminal intent. Intention is an action or that which tempts or leads the mind to engage in a criminal act. It is immaterial whether an offense has been committed with a motive or not and such proof of motive may be significant in establishing the defendant has committed a specific crime, but is not crucial to a conviction. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2007, p.12431). Again, a crime can be classified into two categories viz. crime and misdemeanor.

A felony is one which refers to any serious crime, the punishment for which will be at least minimum one year jail and misdemeanor refers to any crime for which punishment will be less than a year. (Mack, 1999, p.6).

Homicide is a crime and the murder is the official name given for legally unjustified and intentional homicide. For instance, there exists an unending argument as to whether an abortion is a crime or not. Those who contest the legality of induced abortion term it as murder. Those who argue that termination of pregnancy on the medical ground cannot be regarded as a murder.

The existence of watch dog namely ‘police department ‘effectively reduces the rate of crime. Crime rates will tend to increase if there is absence of watch dog. For instance, East Palo Atto in U.S.A was once topped in murder rates and when severe action was introduced by police, the murder rate has come down drastically since the police was able to get rid of the professional criminals out of the streets. The presence of police force in the neighborhood would drastically abhor and prevent crime, help to enforce laws, to book the culprits and to maintain smooth atmosphere.

A physical violence or crime refers to a physical injury arising out of a beating, molestation, rape, incest, etc. Violence or crime can be in the guise of an assault and battery. Criminal laws now recognize some degrees of assault like intent to kill, to rape or to do great bodily harm as aggravated felonies and assaults and a simple assault refers to a misdemeanor.

Violence is a broad term and is cognizable offence in U.S.A. Violence can be generally grouped into the following areas.

  1. gun violence,
  2. violence in classroom and school
  3. teenagers and dating violence
  4. domestic violence
  5. youth violence, and
  6. workplace violence.

One major type of crime that relatively not given much importance until recent decades is that of white-collar crime like property crimes perused by individuals in the higher echelon of society in the course of their business or professional careers. U.S.A government has already introduced a massive drive against abuse of copyright and trademark infringement through FBI operations like “counter copy “ and “Intellectual property Rights Initiatives”. (Barr et al, 2003, p.1). There are other legislations which prevents crimes against property like Mail and wire Fraud Statute , Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1996 (RICO ) , Money Laundering Act , Data base Protection statute ,theft of Major Art Act, Trade Secrets Act etc.

Terrorism entails intimidations and violence against property or persons. A terrorist may be motivated politically, ideologically, religiously and on nationalistic basis.9/11 attack is a best example of terrorism as it is being considered not only a crime against humanity but also regarded as a very complex shape of international terrorism.

War crimes pertain to infringement of rule of law during wartime. These are concerned with limits on violence approved by law during wartime. War crime rules are both in the shape of customs as well as treaties which are the two significant basis of international law. War time criminal justice concerns with the status of captured soldiers, their privileges, the regulations concerned with the conduct of war, occupation over another country through war, treatment of prisoners etc.

Any crime committed against these rules either set by the customs or international treaties are regarded to be war crimes and these rules are part and parcel of international law.

Thus, Crime is an intricate notion with no universal and established definition. The definition of crime has become much arduous and it differs across culture, faith and occasion.

Crimes against the State

Crime against state is also known as lese majesty. Crimes of this type are included in the treason. Even today, some countries have banned even written or verbal attacks on the form of government, the public officials or the head of state and if committed will be regarded as crimes analogues to lese majesty. U.S.A being a democratic country does recognize the right to freedom of expression, speech and hence, the concept of lese majesty has narrower scope in U.S.A.

Likewise, counterfeiting a country’s currency is regarded as a crime against the state resulting to high treason and even punishable by death. Congress has enacted legislation against counterfeiting foreign currency and securities within the United States and almost all states have now statutes against counterfeiting.


There has been a 605% increase of violent crimes in U.S.A alone since 1953. Americans view violence and crime as the most significant issue being witnessed in U.S.A. (Summery 2002 173). A good criminal justice system helps to maintain law and order of a country under control. Even though, the administration is toothed with a exhaustive power to trace and punish criminals, many procedures have been set out by the American Constitution like right to engage a counsel , right to remain silence , right to appeal etc for an accused. The main intention of a criminal law is to safeguard society. One of the famous maxims about criminal law is that the punishment must fit the crime. Thus, this research study helps to evaluate what a criminal system is and about its intricacies in detail.


Anniken U.Davenport. (2008) Basic Criminal Law: The Constitution, Procedure, and Crimes, 2/E.Prentice Hall.

Barr, K., Beiting, M., & Grzesinski, A. (2003). Intellectual Property Crimes. American Criminal Law Review, 40(2), 771+.

Carlsmith, Kevin M (2001). The Ex Ante Function Of The Criminal Law, Law & Society Review.

Cook, J. R. (2001). Asphalt Justice: A Critique of the Criminal Justice System in America.

Mack, R. L. (1999). A Layperson’s Guide to Criminal Law. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Murder. (2007). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press Westport, CT: Praeger.

Summers, R. W. & Hoffman, A. M. (Eds.). (2002). Domestic Violence: A Global View. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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LawBirdie. "Criminal Justice System in USA." March 27, 2023.