Criminal Law and Procedure Actions Law and Legal Definition

Criminal law involves prosecution of a person by the government as the representative of the people of society for an act that has been classified as a crime. Criminal law differs from civil law in many aspects. In a criminal case the state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit, while in a civil case the injured party brings the suit. Crimes are punishable by incarceration, fines, or both, whereas a person found civilly liable may only be forced to pay money or surrender property. Crimes generally require a showing of wrongful intent, while the focus of a civil case is upon fault, regardless of intent.

Crimes in the United States are defined by local, state, and federal governments, although some there are some crimes that exist under common law (judge made law). Criminal laws vary significantly from state to state. However, a Model Penal Code (MPC) exists which serves as a good foundation to gain an understanding of the basic structure of criminal liability.

Crimes are classified into different categories of seriousness, including felonies for more serious offenses and misdemeanors for less serious offenses. Felonies are usually crimes punishable by imprisonment of a year or more, while misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than a year. Because of the loss of personal liberty at risk, prosecutors have to prove each and every element of the crime to get a conviction. Furthermore, the prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge "beyond a reasonable doubt" of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged. In civil cases, the plaintiff needs to show a defendant is liable only by a "preponderance of the evidence," or more than 50%.