The term criminal law, sometimes called penal law, refers to any of various
bodies of rules in different jurisdictions whose common characteristic is the
potential for unique and often severe impositions as punishment for failure to
comply. Criminal punishment, depending on the offense and jurisdiction, may
include execution, loss of liberty, government supervision (parole or probation),
or fines. There are some archetypal crimes, like murder, but the acts that are
forbidden are not wholly consistent between different criminal codes, and even
within a particular code lines may be blurred as civil infractions may give rise also to
criminal consequences. Criminal law typically is enforced by the government, unlike
the civil law, which may be enforced by private parties.
Criminal law history
The first civilizations generally did not distinguish between civil and criminal law.
The first written codes of law were produced by the Sumerians. Around 2100-2050
BC Ur-Nammu, the Neo-Sumerian king of Ur, enacted the oldest written legal code
whose text has been discovered: the
Code of Ur-Nammu
although an earlier code
of Urukagina of Lagash is also known to have existed. Another important early code
was the Code Hammurabi, which formed the core of Babylonian. These early legal
codes did not separate penal and civil laws.
The similarly significant Commentaries of Gaius on the Twelve Tables also conflated
the civil and criminal aspects, treating theft or
as a tort. Assault and
violent robbery were analogized to trespass as to property. Breach of such laws
created an obligation of law or
discharged by payment of monetary
compensation or damages.
The first signs of the modern distinction between crimes and civil matters emerged
during the Norman Invasion of England.
The special notion of criminal penalty, at
least concerning Europe, arose in Spanish Late Scolasticism (see Alfonso de Castro),
when the theological notion of God's penalty (poena aeterna) that was inflicted
solely for a guilty mind, became transfused into canon law first and, finally, to
secular criminal law.
The development of the state dispensing justice in a court
clearly emerged in the eighteenth century when European countries began
maintaining police services. From this point, criminal law had formalized the
mechanisms for enforcement, which allowed for its development as a discernible
Criminal law is distinctive for the uniquely serious potential consequences
or sanctions for failure to abide by its rules. Every crime is composed of criminal
elements. Capital punishment may be imposed in some jurisdictions for the most
serious crimes. Physical or corporal punishment may be imposed such
aswhipping or caning, although these punishments are prohibited in much of the
world. Individuals may be incarcerated in prison or jail in a variety of conditions
depending on the jurisdiction. Confinement may be solitary. Length of incarceration