Criminal law is that body of law which regulates and punishes public wrongs, as opposed to private wrongs. Where a lawsuit seeks to remedy a person for their private losses, a criminal case seeks to remedy society for a breach of the peace. Thus the purpose of criminal action is not necessarily to make the victim whole, but to impress upon the offender a social disapproval of the conduct in question.

In all criminal actions, the case is prosecuted by the government- in the United States, that means the Federal government, a State government, or a Native American tribal government. Because the case is prosecuted by the government the complainant does not control the case, and is strictly speaking merely a witness to the crime. If the government successfully meets its burden, the accused is then convicted and is thereafter sentenced.

Classes of criminal offenses Edit

Criminal offenses can be categorized in four general classifications: offenses against persons, offenses against property, offenses against public order, and inchoate offenses.

Offenses against persons are criminal offenses involving a violation of personal safety or dignity. Such offenses include homicide, rape, and assault.

Offenses against property are criminal offenses involving damage, destruction, or taking of the property of another. Such offenses include theft, arson, forgery, or vandalism.

Offenses against public order are criminal offenses that involve government administration, public decency, or public health. Examples of these offenses include impersonating a public official, prostitution, obscenity, or riot.

Inchoate offenses are a special class of criminal offenses that punish incomplete crimes such as criminal attempt, criminal conspiracy, or criminal solicitation. The accused need not actually succeed in committing the offense- rather, these offenses punish the intent to commit the crime when accompanied by an overt act taken in furtherance of the intended crime. By requiring an overt act, it is less likely that a person will be punished simply for contemplating a crime, or for speaking about the commission of a crime in the abstract.