Criminal Law in the United States of America


It is first of all necessary to define the scope of criminal law and its implication upon society. It could be reasonably defined that criminal law is that offshoot of law that bans certain kinds of conduct or behavior and deems it intrinsic to enforce punishment or penal action upon those who transgress the limits of such proscribed conduct. In simple terms, criminal law dictates the limits and ambit of human behavior and enforces punishment if such limits are crossed.

Illusory and reality perspectives of criminal laws

However, it is often seen that criminal laws in statute books and actions may be at variance. In actual reality, applications of laws are quite different from what we watch on TV or in movies. It would not be wrong to suggest that laws are made to suit powerful interest groups, who have political and economic clout even to make or unmake laws in the United States.

The “dual systems of courts and dual practices of punishment” (Grossberg, & Tomlines, 2008, p.179) ensured that more often than not, the rich and powerful got away with their misdeeds.

Conflict of interests

Thus, there is an eternal conflict of interest between the powerful sections whose intentions may not always be honest or altruistic and the suffering masses that are often at the receiving end of discrimination and legal manipulations. This way the aim and intention of law, in terms of justice and fair play, maybe compromised at times, defeating the very purpose of criminal law and its applications in specific situations, caused by unequal distribution of power and resources. The implication is that with this sort of unequal distribution of power and resources, segments with greater power can dominate the masses with lesser or no power, much to the latter’s disadvantage and distress. (Quinney, & Trevino, 2001).

Criminal Law in the United States of America

It is seen that, unlike what most people believe, the criminal law system in the US has evolved out of political necessity and social demands. Like all other democratic countries that take pride in the protection of interests of the majority, in the US too, the minority rules over the proletariat and initiates laws, ostensibly for their protection. But the laws may essentially be made to protect the interests of the rich and the powerful and not necessarily to seek retribution for the marginalized and aggrieved part of society.

However, with the passage of time and the end of the colonial era, people began to realize that social groups could exercise influence over the legal system and ensure justice and fair play. Criminal laws evolved to compensate the aggrieved and punish the perpetrators of crimes, especially those with social connotations. Thus, “The concept of criminal law developed only when the notion of private vengeance was replaced by the principle that in some instances the community was also injured when harm came to its members.” (Quinney, & Trevino, 2001, p.44).

Aspects of criminal jurisprudence

Further, there are several other aspects of criminal law that may be interesting and, at the same time, surprising. It is commonly believed that for an act or action to be termed as criminal, the need for two aspects men’s rea (mental state) and actus reus (wrong act) is necessary. Men’s rea refers to the state of mind of the alleged criminal, and actus reus is about the actual commission of the crime, with intention and purpose. (Scheb, 2009).

However, it is seen that sometimes the intent may not be present, and yet, the crime may be within culpable limits. For instance, serving alcohol to minors or possessing drugs without apparent malafide intentions may be within the ambit of crime or strict liability offenses and prosecuted accordingly, although no offense or harm may have been done.

Materiality and objectivity in the criminal justice delivery system

One of the main aspects of criminal law is the initiation of a prosecution and the pronouncement of sentences to the offenders after they are proved guilty by a competent court of justice. In most cases, the jury does not have the time or the intentions of going beyond the scope of what is being presented by way of the charge sheet, the defense produced by the plaintiff and defendants, the arguments and deliberations, and the perspectives taken by the courts by the evidence before them and the strength of arguments from both sides. Thus, objectivity and dispassion are the hallmarks of criminal laws in the United States. But the interesting feature in criminal laws systems is that the following aspects must be present for granting of conviction to the accused:

  1. There is a specific law that prohibits the commission of certain action
  2. This specific law has been transgressed or violated and has been proved in court beyond doubt.
  3. As a consequence, the actionable claim has arisen to the victim or the aggrieved as convincing to the Jury members.

When these pre-conditions are assessed, it is seen that for an alleged crime to be legally enforceable, there need to be laws that specifically prohibit its commissioning. In other words, a person cannot be convicted or even charged with a crime, unless there is some statute or law that emphatically and denounces it and makes it susceptible to punishment.

Therefore, actions that do not come within the scope of criminal law cannot be enforced by it and thus, such events, however illegal they may be, are non-enforceable.

Gomez vs. People case

The loopholes in the criminal systems have been proved in many cases when the courts have held that actions by law enforcement officers were beyond their jurisdiction and resulted in damages to the property of the defendant beyond their consent and that could be reasonably deduced from the nature of the offense.

In the case of Gomez vs. People case, “The question presented by this appeal is whether a police officer may conduct a destructive search of an automobile based on a suspect’s general consent to search. “ (This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports, 2005, p.1).

In this case, the courts held that the action taken by the police officer far exceeded the consent and reasonable limits.


It is seen that the fundamental principle of criminal law in the United States is based upon the premise that people should accept responsibility for their actions, whether good or bad. In the event their actions are illegal, they would need to accept the punishment that follows such perceived misdeeds. However, it is also seen that it is for the courts of competent jurisdiction, federal courts in case the nature of the alleged crime committed is federal, and, alternatively, by state courts, if the characteristic of crime is of a state nature, to pass judgments accordingly.

Notwithstanding the administrative jurisdiction of courts to try crimes and punish criminals, it is also necessary to consider the fact that most courts would place objectivity and materiality as major premises on which the hearings are based and the arguments presented to the jury as key factors in deciding the course and verdicts of individual cases.


Grossberg, M., & Tomlines, C. (2008). The Cambridge history of law in America. Cambridge University Press. 179. Web.

Quinney, AR., & Trevino, J. (2001). The social reality of crime. Transaction Publishers. Web.

Quinney, AR., & Trevino, J. (2001). The social reality of crime: Emergence of criminal law. Transaction Publishers. 44. Web.

Scheb, EM. (2009). Criminal law and procedure (Hardcover). Amazon. Web.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the New York Reports: Ciparick, J. (2005).1. Web.