The state legislature and the U.S. Congress define specific criminal offenses using the general principles of criminal law as a guide. For example, in Texas, a section of the penal code might begin as follows: “An actor commits the offense of x if he intentionally . . . .” This ensures that any person reading the statutory section from a state crimes code, which is also called a penal code or a criminal justice code, can identify what criminal acts are prohibited. In practice, this is easier said than done due to the grammatical construction of sentences and the ambiguity of words. In this Application, you become familiar with the language used to categorize crimes in state crimes codes and the U.S. code.
To prepare for this assignment:
- Review Chapter 1 in your course text, Contemporary Criminal Law: Concepts, Cases, and Controversies, and focus on the different categories of crimes.
- Review the sentencing classification of offenses on the Cornell University Law School Web site. Consider how felonies and misdemeanors are defined.
- Using the Internet, find the legislative Web site of your state and review the crimes code (also called the penal code or the criminal justice code) for your state. If you live outside the U.S., select a U.S. state of your choice. Review the table of contents for the crimes code of this state.
- Select three specific criminal offense sections, two from your state and one from the federal crimes code. An example of a federal criminal offense in the U.S. Code is Title 18, Part I, Chapter 50A: Genocide.
- Consider whether the crimes you selected can be categorized as felonies or misdemeanors. In addition, determine if the crimes can be categorized as state or federal crimes.
- Reflect on how these crimes are different from the civil violations of the law. According to the crime, consider whether this difference depends on whether it is the offender’s first offense—that is, whether the offender has committed that crime for the first time.
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