Different jurisdictions have different definitions of the word crime but the generally agreed definition of a crime that it is any act that violates the law and whose omission results in a punishment. Punishments for crimes vary and these can range from payment of a fine to imprisonment in a jail. The specific acts or omissions that constitute a crime depend on the governmental bodies exercising judicial powers (Macedo & Stephen, 2006).
In the United States of America for instance, individuals will at any given time be subject top three sets of laws. The first set of these laws is defined by the provisions of the federal statues while the second set is stipulated by the respective state governments. The other set of laws are outlined by the local governments and these are commonly called municipal ordinances.
Most crimes require that an individual completes an affirmative act before they can be punished for their misconduct. In most jurisdictions, the level of the crime will usually be set in direct proportionality to the severity of the crime.
Criminal law, also termed as Penal law, encompasses the rules and statutes written by Congress and state legislators dealing with any criminal activity that causes harm to the general public, with penalties. It also covers criminal procedure connected with charging, trying, sentencing and imprisoning defendants convicted of crimes. It regulates how suspects are investigated, charged and tried (Macedo, 2006).
Criminal law also includes decisions by appellate courts that define and interpret criminal law and regulate criminal procedure, in the absence of clear legislated rules. In order to be found guilty of violating a criminal law, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act as he/she did. In other words, there had to be intention. Criminal law is typically enforced by governments. The state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit. Criminal law encompasses Substantive Criminal law; Criminal Procedure; and the special problems in administration and enforcement of criminal justice (Chadwick, Elizabeth, 1996).
Substantive Criminal law defines the crimes committed against the state and may establish punishment. It defines how the facts in the case will be handled, the classification of the crimes (such as, whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor), as well as how the crime should be charged. In essence, it deals with the "substance" of the matter. Criminal statutes determine which courts will hear what cases and who will prosecute those cases.
Criminal Procedure describes the methods through which the criminal laws are enforced. For example: when the accused can be searched; when evidence can be seized; and when eyewitnesses can be investigated. Criminal Procedure deals with a defendant's individual, constitution rights - including the right to remain silent, the right to a speedy, public trial by a jury, the right to a competent attorney, and the defendant's right to confront his or her accuser (Macedo, 2006).
Enforcement of criminal laws in the United States has traditionally been a matter handled by the states. Criminal statutes, which vary by jurisdiction, describe the type of conduct that has been deemed a crime, the intent required, and in some instances, the proper punishment. In the application of punishment, there are typically five objectives: retribution; deterrence; prevention/incapacitation; rehabilitation; and restitution. There are limitations on the punishment that may be imposed. The U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment states: 'Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.' A number of state constitutions also contain the same, or similar, provisions.
Crimes against Property
Crime against property refers to any criminal act or omission that results in the destruction of another person's property or deprives the owner of property against his or her will. In the criminal law, crimes against property are generally considered less serious than crimes against persons or violent crimes but they nevertheless constitute serious felony charges. Vandalism and arson are good examples of crimes that result in the destruction of another person's property (Macedo & Stephen, 2006).
On the other hand, crimes that unwillingly deprive an owner of their property are many and these include embezzlement, larceny, extortion, receiving stolen goods, industrial espionage and burglary. Robbery is perhaps a good example of a crime hat combines violent crime and crime against property. Besides these examples, there is a wide range of crimes falling under the domain of intellectual property law. The occurrence of these crimes is rising sharply as information technology becomes a strong force in the economies of the developing ad developed world.
Again, different jurisdictions have different definitions of crimes against property and each of these jurisdictions has defined varying punishments for each crime. The early British common law for instance had only one crime against property and this was larceny. In those times, there was only one prescribed sentence for larceny; death. But as time went on, judges gradually became reluctant to execute people for such small crimes as petty theft and pick-pocketing. As such, many crimes that were initially classified under larceny were now classified as something else so that the death sentence could be avoided (Macedo, 2006).
In the United States of America, life and liberty are considered to be categorically above property and in its penal laws, no crime against property is regarded as serious enough as to warranty a death sentence.
Treason is a crime of disloyalty by a citizen to his or her country. The crime of treason can be committed in different ways such as;
1. Helping an enemy country during war or armed forces against which the country is engaged in hostilities
2. Waging an act of war against one's country or doing certain acts in preparation for the war
3. Killing or attempting to kill or maim the ruler of a country
4. Using force or violence for the purpose of overthrowing the government
It is not easy to define the crime of treason in its entirety because each country has different considerations as to what constitutes the crime.
During the American war of rebellion, the confederate government was accused of treason by waging war against the United States in the sense that participating in the war was an act of hostility against the Union (Cassese, 2003).
The United States penal codes stipulate that acts of hostility on the part of a subject of another country owing no allegiance to the United States of America by reason of temporary or permanent residence or citizenship cannot constitute the rime of treason even if it is committed within the limits of the United States of America. Citizens of the confederate states who participated in the rebellion against the federal government were convicted of treason, because while they were citizens and subjects of the United States, they waged war against their country.
Although the various states that make the Unites States of America are not strictly speaking sovereign powers, it nevertheless seems conceded that treason can be committed against a state and punished by that state as a crime. As matter of act, during its entire existence as a free nation, the United States of America has conducted very few prosecutions in respect of the crime of treason, either against the federal or state governments (Macedo & Stephen, 2006).
The crime of murder
Murder is the unlawful or illegal killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought. It is the malicious intention that distinguishes murder from other acts of homicide such as manslaughter. The law recognizes that not all acts of murder are criminal in nature. A good example of this is killing in war fare when the victim belongs to an enemy force (Duffy & Helen 2001).
Killing in self defense is acceptable in law. If for instance a person is threatened with death or serious death but manages to kill the attacker, that person will have killed in self-defense. Such a killing is considered justifiable homicide which is distinct from murder which is criminal homicide. Most jurisdictions consider murder to be one of the most serious crimes and as such, punishments for the crime of murder are very harsh.
Crime of Terrorism
The first ever modern convention on address the problem of terrorism was the Tokyo Convention of 1963 which sought to address the behaviour of passengers aboard air-crafts. This convention was followed by the Hague Convention of 19700 which made it an offense for anybody aboard an aircraft to attempt to exercise or seize control of an aircraft whether by force, intimidation or threat. This convention was developed in response to the 1968 hijacking of an aircraft flying from Rome to Tel Aviv, the event which is generally considered to be the chief initiator of deadly international terrorist attacks that have rocked the world to present (Cassese, 2003).
Laws against the crime of terrorism were developed in response to the prevalence of terrorist acts across the globe. The United Nations has enacted a convention declaring universal jurisdiction for unlawful and intentional detonation of explosives in public places. Another convention was passed and this required nations to guard against and prevent the financing of terrorism and also to prosecute organizations and individuals that provide such financing. In its conventions, the UN has declared the rime of terrorism and that of financing international terrorism as being international in nature and for that reason they are subjects of universal jurisdiction (Chadwick, Elizabeth, 1996).
Various international jurisdictions give specific address to acts committed against air travelers whether at airports or onboard aircrafts, acts against water navigation and shipping, and prohibition on taking people hostage. All these conventions impose a duty upon states to either prosecute or extradite individuals or organizations alleged to have contravened the conventions. According to the UN, the contracting state in which the offender is found shall be obliged to submit the case to relevant authorities for prosecution if it cannot extradite them.
Common law defenses
In any jurisdiction, the prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offense for which they are being charged. If there are a number of elements that are party to an alleged offense, each of the elements must be proved (Duffy & Helen 2001). Mostly, the accused or their legal representatives will try to show that the prosecution has failed to prove the case to the required standards that is beyond reasonable doubt.
Nevertheless, even if the prosecution can prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, there are certain defenses open to offenders. For instance, necessity, claim of right and self-defense can be cited as defenses to various charges of assault. Thus, if the accused person can establish any of these defenses, then they cannot be found guilty of the offenses for which they are being accused. However, the burden of proving a defense lies on the accused and their attorneys and the defenses must always be proved on the balance of probabilities (Cassese, 2003).
Constitutional Rights before Arrest
Persons arrested or detained by [police have certain constitutional rights which must be observed by authorities and these are;
i. Right to remain silent when being questioned by police
ii. The right to be informed the reason for their arrest, detention or charge
iii. The right to be informed that they can hire a lawyer of their own choice to represent them and offer legal advice
iv. Right to be informed of the services of duty counsels who are paid by the government to offer legal aid to accused persons
v. The right to be presumed innocent till proved guilty in a competent court of law
vi. The right to be released on bail unless there is a valid reason to warranty a custody
vii. Not to testify at their trial
viii. Right to have charges brought to trial within the reasonable time possible.
Right to trial by jury
The right to be tried by a jury depends on the nature of the offense for which the defendant is being accused. In the United states of America, petty offenses, that is those offenses that are punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months are not covered by the requirement that provides aright to be tried by a jury. Where multiple offenses are considered and their total time of imprisonment exceeds six months, the right to be tried by a jury does not warranty (Chadwick, Elizabeth, 1996).
The constitution of the USA requires that juries be selected from the state in which the crime at hand was committed. More provisions direct that the place where the offense is committed determines the location of the trial and if multiple locations are alleged to be locations of the crime, any one of them can be chosen for the trial. But however if the alleged offenses are not committed in any state, the place of trial can be determined by the congress, for instance in the case of crimes committed at sea. Juries are required to be impartial and this provision is interpreted as requiring individual jurors to be unbiased (Duffy & Helen 2001).