The term crime in the average language denotes an unconventional human action or activity that is punishable by the state. In modern criminal law, however, there is no simple or ubiquitously accepted definition and understanding of the term crime. Therefore, crime is what is depicted and declared to be unlawful by the pertinent and applicable law. So then, what is criminal law? From the above understanding, we can confidently deduce that it is a body of the law that colligates to crime. It is used to govern a society through its conduct while denoting what is socially harmful, threatening and endangering to the welfare of the community. This law is meant to safeguard the people property, health, safety and moral benefits. Since there is no universally accepted definition of what criminal law is, it varies according to the territory within which the power can be exercised.
So, where did it all begin? Well, the first legislation to have ever been written were contrived by the Sumerians between 2100-2050 BC. However, it wasn’t until the Norman invasion of England that signs of what would be the modern differentiation of crimes and civil matters emerged. The notion of a criminal penalty first came into being in Spain as a result of the theological impression of God’s penalty (poena aeterna) which set the basis of the secular criminal law. But it was not until the 18th century after European countries had established courts and a police service that the states began to administer justice. Criminal law had now been developed into a discernible entity in the eyes of the law and of the state.
There are very many elements that crime is composed of. These features help determine the kind of punishment to be imposed on a guilty party. There are very many types of punishment. In most countries, the following objectives pave way for the enforcements of punishments under the criminal law jurisdiction of that particular state;
This is designed to protect the public from a criminal who is considered to be of grave danger to the society. The primary aim of this objective is to keep them away from the society, and this is mostly done through incarceration2. Restoration
This objective seeks to ensure that the victim is returned to their original position before the injury. It is, therefore, a victim-oriented form of punishment. The state authority attempts to repair the injury inflicted on the victim by the accused or offender.3. Rehabilitation
This is the process of transforming an offender into a valuable member of the society. Through rehabilitation, the state authority seeks to prevent the offender from committing any other acts that deemed unlawful under the criminal law.4. Deterrence
Deterrence is a harsh punishment imposed on an offender with the aim of deterring the offender and society generally from committing the same crime.5. Retribution
It is a widely viewed opinion that a criminal has to suffer in one way or another. So to ensure that the scales are balanced, criminal law seeks to put criminals that have taken improper advantage in an unpleasant disadvantage. Therefore, an offender who contravenes the laws of a state give up the rights given to them by the very same statutes.
Capital punishments are there to ensure that laws are enforced. The kind of punishment, however, varies with the States or the jurisdiction. This makes criminal law a very broad subject. However, some aspects of criminal law are shared by the different states and jurisdictions. For example, Actus reus. This is a Latin term that is commonly referred to as the guilty act. Within a legal confinement, this is defined as the existence of physical evidence that shows a crime was committed. Or the element of Mens rea which is Latin meaning guilty mind. In a legal confinement, this means that there should be proof of the intention by the accused to commit a wrongful act. It should be noted that in criminal law, intention and motive do not mean the same thing. There is also the element of a fatal offense. For a punishment to be enforced under criminal law, a fatal offense such as murder must have been committed. These are but a few of the many elements of common law that are universal.
Though criminal law is different in different states and jurisdictions as a result of both political and cultural aspects, its general purpose is to; a) Set behavioral standards that are widely acceptable within a community b) Protect the society from any harm that can be inflicted by a person c) To allow for peaceful coexistence
References: Legal Rights Criminal Law Resource 1 Criminal Law Resource 2