Criminal Law in the United States

The criminal law refers to a collection of statutory legislations that apply in determining what conduct gets considered as a crime and how judges may take legal action against the offenders (Devereux, 2008). Whenever an individual has failed to observe penal codes, and break the law, they commit a criminal act punishable by probation, fines or imprisonment. Both state and federal governments have set criminal laws that explain the disciplinary actions to be taken against law defectors. In criminal law, there are different theories contained in it. Some of this theories are to reform the offender, to discourage crime, to give justice to the crime, and prevent more crimes. There is a lot of discussions about these theories and which policy should be promoted by the justice system.

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There exist two types of criminal laws which are felonies and misdemeanors (University of Texas, 2000). Misdemeanors are crimes considered to be low-level misconduct, such as traffic violations, petty thefts, or minor physical attacks. In the United States, this crime is punishable by one year or less in prison or fines (Devereux, 2008). Felonies, on the other hand, involve serious high-level crimes, such as manslaughter, rape, murder, drug trafficking, and robbery. These offenses carry a minimum of one year depending on the type of offense committed and under what laws, jurisdiction, the crime was committed (Devereux, 2008).

Offense of Murder

In the case that murder is the crime committed, then different discussions may arise regarding the sentence passed on the offender. “Murder is defined as the illegal slaying of a human being in the Queen’s peace, with premeditated hatred” (University of Texas, 2000). Criminal law on murder contains two parts, the actus reus of murder and the mens rea of murder. “The actus reus of murder consist of the unlawful slaughter of a human being in the Queen’s peace. The mens rea of murder is killing by hatred premeditated, the courts’ interpretation of it is the intention to kill or cause grievous body harm, GBH” (Darley, Robinson, & Carlsmith 2001).

In actus reus of murder, there are three aspects considered. These aspects are unlawful killing, a human being and in the Queen’s peace. For the aspect of unlawful killing, the killing can be committed by a blunder or act. All unlawful killings get termed as crimes. Some killings can be considered as lawful, such as in self-defense, police or military killings when executing their duties, and doctors who administer lethal drugs intended to end suffering.

The second aspect in actus reus of murder is the affected party should be a human being. This aspect has raised more questions on what should be measured to consider one as a human being or not. A person whose brain stem is proved to be inactive ceases to be a human being. A fetus is regarded as a human being once it has an entirely independent existence out of its mother. A person with a disability is a human being no matter how bad their disability is.

The last aspect of murder in the actus reus is, in the Queen’s peace, this aspect’s interpretation is the killing of creatures from outer space does not categorize as murder.

Murder cases get determined in two ways. In some cases, the jury must sit down and listen to the case and determine whether the charged party is guilty or innocent. In other cases, the charged party, or the defendant, makes a plea bargain where they admit to committing the crime in exchange for a reduced sentence.

In the passing of justice in a murder case where the defendant is proved guilty, the sentence is compulsory life imprisonment no matter how justifying the circumstances might look. In some cases, defense on the offender may be presented before the jury to determine the innocence or guilt of the offender. The cases to be considered are the provocation, suicide contract, and diminished responsibility. These cases may reduce the sentence to manslaughter, and the judge may pass discretion on the verdict made.

Under the Homicide Act of 1957, a person suffering from an abnormality of healthy mental functioning shall not get sentenced for murder, and this abnormality may also be a circumstance arising from a medical condition (Devereux 2008). Mental functioning may be a result of something that weakens a person’s ability to make rational decisions, have self-control and control their conduct.

In conclusion, legal action must be explored in order to consider accountability in a murder. It must also be established that the act of the offender contributed a great part in the end result. In some cases, the defendant may be found legally responsible even when the defense in the case is seen to be strong. The jury decides on the facts presented in the court of law. It is the duty of every court to uphold and protect the rule of law. Therefore, everyone is encouraged to observe all the laws of the land and ensure harmonious co-existence between individuals, companies and all other parties.



Darley, J. M., Robinson, P. H., & Carlsmith, K. M. (January 01, 2001). Ex Ante Function of the Criminal Law. Law & Society Review, 35, 1.)

Devereux, J. A. (January 01, 2008). Callinan, the Constitution and Criminal Law: A Decade of Pragmatism. University of Queensland Law Journal, The, 27, 1.)

University of Texas. (2000). American journal of criminal law. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin School of Law Publications.

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