Criminal law is a branch of law that concerns crimes that are committed against the public authority. It is distinct from civil law, which involves crimes people commit against each other, not necessarily against the public as a whole. Murder, for example, is a criminal matter because, although there is a specific victim, murder in general runs against the interests of the public. By contrast, if someone fails to honor a contract, this is a matter for civil law.
Substantive criminal law deals with the definitions of various crimes that are covered by the criminal code, while procedural law is concerned with the prosecution of said crimes. Procedural law may also include sentencing recommendations that are designed to be used in the event that a victim is convicted of committing a crime. Under many criminal codes, convictions can only be obtained when the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did indeed commit the crime.
Three broad types of crimes appear in the criminal code: misdemeanors, felonies, and treason. Treason is of particular concern because it not only violates the public interest, but also threatens national security and the welfare of the nation itself, which is why treason is accompanied with such severe penalties. Misdemeanors are relatively minor crimes, while felonies are more serious crimes which may accompanied with severe mandatory sentences.
In every nation, the ideal is to deter criminals from committing acts that violate the interests of the public or the nation, and deterrence is a major feature of the criminal code. Given that reducing the crime rate to zero is unlikely, the code also deals with the proper containment and management of criminals, including rehabilitation of people who commit criminal acts. Measures for some form of punishment are also a key part of the law, warning people who consider engaging in criminal activity that their actions have consequences, and for some types of crime, restitution to victims and their families may also be built into the law.
Also known as penal law, criminal law is used all over the world to establish basic codes of conduct for citizens and as the basis of a legal system. Some lawyers specialize in criminal matters, whether they are prosecutors or defenders, and this type of law also lays the groundwork that allows police forces, courts, and other aspects of the legal system to function.