Posted: September 17th, 2023
The Rule of Law and Its Role in Criminal Justice
Students, your response to the below listed assignment should be an essay (an introduction with a thesis statement, a body and conclusion) format. Please note that your submission has to be in APA (7th ed.) format; and you are to support your response with scholarly sources.
You are to do the following: discuss the rule of law and its role in criminal justice; differentiate between substantive and procedural law (including an example of each); identify and discuss the sources of criminal law; identify the principles of criminal law; and discuss how crime can be categorized.
The Rule of Law and Its Role in Criminal Justice
The rule of law is a fundamental principle in criminal justice systems around the world. At its core, the rule of law establishes that governmental power and authority are derived from a set of established legal rules and principles, rather than the will of individuals (Dzur, 2016). In the context of criminal justice, the rule of law serves to protect individuals from the arbitrary exercise of power by the state and its agents (e.g., police, prosecutors) and ensures a fair and just process is followed when investigating and prosecuting alleged criminal acts. This article will explore the role of the rule of law in criminal justice by differentiating between substantive and procedural law, identifying the sources of criminal law, outlining key principles of criminal law, and examining how crimes are categorized.
Substantive vs. Procedural Law
Criminal law is comprised of both substantive law and procedural law. Substantive law refers to the actual statutes and legal codes that define criminal offenses and prescribe punishments (Dzur, 2016). For example, statutes defining murder, assault, theft, and other crimes represent substantive criminal law. Procedural law, on the other hand, outlines the process that must be followed when investigating, charging, prosecuting, and adjudicating criminal acts (Dzur, 2016). Key aspects of procedural criminal law include rules governing search and seizure, Miranda warnings, the right to an attorney, evidentiary standards, and due process (Dzur, 2016). Procedural law ensures the substantive criminal law is applied in a fair manner consistent with principles like due process and the presumption of innocence. For example, evidence obtained through an illegal search in violation of procedural law would generally be inadmissible in court, even if it relates to an offense defined by substantive criminal law.
Sources of Criminal Law
Criminal law in the United States is derived from several sources, all of which are subordinate to the U.S. Constitution (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). At the federal level, criminal law is primarily defined through acts of Congress and codified in Title 18 of the U.S. Code. However, most criminal acts are prosecuted under state rather than federal law. Each state has its own legislature that enacts criminal codes and statutes (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). Additionally, the common law tradition serves as a source of criminal law principles through judicial rulings and precedents set in past court cases (Robinson & Cahill, 2016).
Principles of Criminal Law
Several core principles underlie modern criminal law and justice systems. First, criminal acts are generally defined as those that violate public rather than private interests or harms, such as acts that threaten public safety or order (Dzur, 2016). Second, there is a presumption of innocence whereby the burden of proof rests with the state to demonstrate guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (Dzur, 2016). Third, criminal acts require both an act (actus reus) and a culpable mental state (mens rea) to establish criminal liability (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). Fourth, proportionality holds that the severity of punishment should fit the severity or harmfulness of the criminal offense (Dzur, 2016). Fifth, legality principles such as nulla poena sine lege require criminal laws to be clear and precise to provide fair notice of prohibited conduct (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). These principles help uphold the rule of law in criminal justice.
Crimes can be usefully categorized in several ways. First, crimes are typically classified as either felonies or misdemeanors based on the severity of associated penalties – felonies are more serious offenses punishable by over one year in prison, while misdemeanors carry lighter penalties (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). Second, crimes can be categorized based on the nature of the harm or interest violated, such as crimes against persons (e.g., homicide, assault), property crimes (e.g., theft, arson), or public order offenses (e.g., drug crimes, weapons offenses) (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). Third, some legal systems further distinguish between crimes of mala in se, which are inherently wrong or evil acts (e.g., murder), versus mala prohibita offenses, which are prohibited primarily due to legal regulation rather than moral wrongfulness (e.g., regulatory or tax offenses) (Robinson & Cahill, 2016). Understanding how crimes are classified can provide insight into principles of criminal law and justice.
In conclusion, the rule of law plays a vital role in upholding fairness, justice and due process in criminal justice systems. By differentiating substantive and procedural law, identifying sources and principles of criminal law, and examining crime categorization frameworks, we gain a deeper understanding of how the rule of law guides both the definition of criminal offenses and the procedures used to investigate, charge, prosecute and punish those acts. An adherence to the rule of law helps balance public safety with individual rights and liberties in any just society.
Dzur, A. W. (2016). Democratic professionalism: Citizen participation and the reconstruction of professional ethics, identity, and practice. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.
Robinson, P. H., & Cahill, M. (2016). Criminal law: Case studies and controversies. St. Paul, MN: Foundation Press.