One of the duties of any state is to provide protection for its citizens. Consequently, many states have resorted to the use of criminal law to define the relationship between the state and its people. Criminal law, as Hart (2012) puts it, is a system of law that entails the prosecution of individuals in court by the government for illegal acts or omission. This paper reviews various concepts that are pertinent in criminal law, some of
which include the goals of criminal law and the interaction of mens rea and actus rea among others.
Criminal Law and Criminal Conduct
By definition, criminal law is a set of statutes and rules that describe citizens’ conduct that the government has prohibited. Usually, these conducts threaten and may cause harm to the safety and welfare of the public. The law also prescribes punishment that the court is supposed to
impose on people for the commission of illegal acts. The term criminal law generally refers to substantive criminal law because it defines and recommends punishments. Similarly, crime in this context is or an act or omission that violates the law as stipulated in the Penal Code. In the US, the local, federal, or state government institutes such laws. Therefore, this paper will discuss various facets of criminal law (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).
Mens Rea vs Actus Rea
Mens rea is a legal term borrowed from Latin that is loosely translated as a criminal intent or a guilty mind. It means the actual intention of a criminal to commit an offense. There is a generally accepted legal framework, which states that to commit a crime, there must have been the intention to do so – mens rea. This concept is only relevant in determining the criminal responsibility of a suspect. Actus rea is a criminal act by itself, i.e. the commission of a crime. Hence, in order for the jury to convict the suspect in any criminal charge, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect has committed an illegal act (actus rea). It should be done in addition to the requisite state of mind (mens rea) for a criminal offense at the time of committing the crime. When a person commits a crime (actus rea) but is not in the required state of mind to commit the actual crime (mens rea), the jury may completely dismiss the case as in the case of Leyman v. Haynam, 164 Ohio St. 3d 595 (1956). During the hearing of this case, it was ruled by the court that the loss of consciousness was a complete defense for the defendant (Allen, 2013).
Diplomatic Immunity and Legislative Immunity
Legislative immunity is an exemption from liability that the law grants to legislators for omissions or acts of tort that they may commit in the course of their daily legislative activities. Immunity exempts legislators from any liability in civil lawsuits that may arise from the activities that they were performing during their term in office. Some countries refer to it as parliamentary immunity, depending on the system of governance (Aust, 2010). On the other hand, diplomatic immunity originates from Vienna Convection and provides diplomats with absolute protection from the normal operations of laws of the host state. It guarantees foreign diplomats that no individual would bar them from carrying out their official duties. The host country exempts these diplomats from tax, civil, and criminal jurisdictions of the host country’s local authorities (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).
Essentially, diplomatic immunity is a major international law principle that grants foreign diplomats protection from legal suits in the host country. However, the law still demands that diplomats abide and respect all the regulations and rules of the host country. Diplomatic immunity is not a ticket to commit a crime, and if a diplomat or a member of his/her family participates in criminal activity, the host country may request for waiver of the law to prosecute the diplomat or expel the entire family. In addition, it allows them to carry out their duties without a full understanding of the legal customs of the host country. This principle is also essential to America as a state since it protects more than 15, 000 American diplomats in over 150 countries from legal or political harassment in the unfortunate situation when the United States and other country are in disagreement. Thus, the law protects diplomats from potential detention and prosecution on fabricated charges. As America also protects foreign diplomats, it is wise for other countries to reciprocate and provide immunity for American diplomats and foster good diplomatic relations (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).
Competency to Stand Trial
Competency is an issue that could arise at different junctures along the cycle of the criminal case. To stand trial, the principle of legal competency demands that defendants understand the nature and purpose of all the legal proceedings against them and be able to cooperate effectively and fully with the counsel for their defense. A defendant must comprehend the charges against him/her in order to understand court proceedings. In addition, he/she should also have some degree of understanding of courtroom procedures and the functions of the parties in the case. To cooperate with the counsel, a defendant should be capable of planning a legal strategy, as well as recalling and relating significant events and facts, including even his/her actions and motives at the time of committing the crime. Moreover, he/she has to be able to testify on his/her own behalf and challenge witnesses to the prosecutor (Hart, 2012).
Indeed, the court should not hold a defendant of questionable competency to trial. It is supported by the four areas of competency to stand trial in a criminal suit. These are competency to represent oneself, competency of sentence, competency of plea, and competency of execution. From the above functions, it is imperative for a defendant to be rational while making such decisions. The scenario of irrationality of a defendant in any of the above four aspects of competency could definitely lead to unfair judgment for him/her. Thus, the theory of the court not holding a defendant with questionable rationality is valid, and courts should continue to apply it (Hart, 2012).
Goals of Criminal Law
Once the jury has convicted a person of a crime, he/she usually passes a sentence commensurate to the committed crime. The judge or the jury of the same crime is the only body that can convict a person in court. In passing a prison sentence, there are four universally accepted goals, namely retribution, deterrence, incarceration/ restraint, and rehabilitation. Sentencing an individual to jail, the jury aims at rehabilitating the convict. An individual receives punishment and at the same time learns that whatever he/she did is not right. In prisons, convicts also go through various activities aimed at rehabilitating their behavior and making them better citizens through behavior change. The state can also pass sentence, such as life imprisonment, so that it serves as a message and discourages or deters people with the intention of committing the same crime.
Similarly, the life imprisonment of a convict would help in ensuring that he/she does not have the second chance of committing an illegal act. For this reason, the state restrains or rather prevents an individual from committing a crime by keeping him/her under state control. The fourth goal of criminal law is redistribution. In particular, the state aims at making a convict suffer and feel the pain that he/she inflicted upon the victim’s family or the victim. In most cases, redistribution is extremely important to the victim’s family or the victim when it was a violent crime. The law requires the prosecutor to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt for the conviction of a suspect. If there are grounds for reasonable doubts, the court will automatically dismiss the case (Gardner & Anderson, 2014).
- Allen, M. J. (2013). Textbook on criminal law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Aust, A. (2010). Handbook of International law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Gardner, T., & Anderson, T. (2014). Criminal law. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.
- Hart, H. A. (2012). The concept of law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.