Unlike civil law, criminal law cases are brought by the ruling state against an individual or corporations for offenses to the public. Usually, these crimes are further categorised in line with their severity, as in the United States where minor offenses are misdemeanors and more harmful ones called felonies, and the sentences available for convictions varies accordingly. In some places, the death penalty is still an option for the most severe crimes like murder and treason.
As outlined by the British Conservative Party in 2008 in their policy paper Prisons with a Purpose1:
“Prisons should reduce crime in three principal ways: by incapacitating offenders, by punishing and thereby deterring others who would commit crimes, and by rehabilitating offenders.”.
These goals of punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation are designed to ensure public safety rather than compensate a victim via financial means. However, there are strict criteria for winning a criminal conviction against a defendant; the highest burden of proof, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, is placed upon the prosecution and for many crimes, the accuser must prove that both actus reus (a criminal act) and mens rea (intent) were present.2 This is to ensure the state’s responsibility of only punishing truly guilty persons is upheld.
1. Conservative and Unionist Party - Prisons with a Purpose. Retrieved from http://www.conservatives.com/policy/security_agenda.aspx
2. Ontario Justice Education Network - In Brief: Mens Rea/Actus Reus. Retrieved from http://www.ojen.ca/resource/935© BrainMass Inc. brainmass.com May 26, 2020, 6:39 pm ad1c9bdddf