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Purpose of Criminal Law

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State of Texas
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criminal law
Texas A & M

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  1. Introduction
  2. Retribution or Revenge
  3. Deterrence/Public Education
  4. Rehabilitation
  5. Conclusion

Criminal law seeks to protect the public from harm by inflicting punishment upon those who have already done harm and by threatening with punishment those who are tempted to do harm. Most people accept that there are consequences for criminal conduct. The consequences are generally unpleasant and take away from the law breaker either his liberty or his property (Davenport, 2009).

One purpose of criminal law is to respond to harmful acts committed by individuals. However, each type of law provides different responses. A person who acts in a way that is considered harmful to society in general may be prosecuted by the government in a criminal case. If the individual is convicted (found guilty) of the crime, he or she will be punished under criminal law by either by a fine, imprisonment, or death (Clarkson, 2005; Davenport, 2009).

Once someone is found guilty of a crime, either a felony or a misdemeanor, punishment is imposed. There is not a single reason to impose a penalty. The reasons for punishing law breakers are varied, and in some instances the reason may vary with the crime. Each reason has it own purpose, with the principal reasons being: Retribution or Revenge, Deterrence/Public Education, Incapacitation, and Rehabilitation (Schmallager, 2007).

[...] London, U.K.: Sweet & Maxwell Ltd. Davenport, A. (2009). Basic Criminal Law: The Constitution, Procedure, and Crimes. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Press. Schmalleger, F. (2007). Criminal Justice Today. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishing. [...]

[...] A term of imprisonment, for example, may serve to incapacitate the offender, deter others in society from committing similar acts, and, at the same time, provide an opportunity for rehabilitative treatment for the offender (Davenport, 2009). On the other hand, the goals of punishment may at times conflict. Retribution and deterrence call for the infliction of unpleasant experiences upon the criminal, including harsh prison treatment; but the prison environment may not be conducive to, or may even defeat, rehabilitation. References Clarkson, C. (2005). Understanding Criminal Law. [...]

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