There are various types of crimes committed around the world ranging from economical, political, social and crimes against humanity just to name but a few. In order to deal with these crimes and ensure a secure world, different countries have enacted laws regarding to the crimes in their constitutions.
Therefore, facts on crimes and decisions of the judge is referenced from the constitution, which prescribes the nature and extend of the punishment or fine awarded to an individual found guilty of an offense . As a basic revelation to a world often simplified by many, the detailed explanations delved into prove a sure way to pass some real practical and critical thinking putting one ahead of the populous concerning common law trivialities.
It is in this light that, taking a look at the most known yet controversial subjects in the constitution and criminal law will in no way become an effort in futility. The paper seeks to address the issue of crimes against persons ranging from murder to violence further highlighting on common law defenses.
Crimes against the Person: Murder
There exist various crimes considered as against humanity or persons. One of such crime is murder. Constitution defines murder as an unlawful killing of another person with ‘malice aforethought’. As one of the most reported crimes, its statistics are well documented. Different countries further classify murder in different forms as entrenched in their land laws.
First-degree murder being a one to one murder in which a death sentence is administered. Nevertheless, for one to be convicted of murder, there stands the need for a prove beyond reasonable doubt that one intentionally killed a fellow human by means of lying in wait for their victim, poisoning or by any other premeditated action.
Other states however stretch the description to include special circumstances such as killing a law enforcement officer, a witness to a crime, a judge and/or where he/she kills more than one person. Murder in the first degree usually carries a death penalty in the states that include capital punishment in their set of rules and a life imprisonment sometimes without the possibility of parole in those that do not.
The other form of murder is felony murder also referred to as second-degree murder. The crime covers those who conspire to commit murder also when “killing occurs in about or as part of an underlying transaction” (Alison & Lawrence, 1993, p.58). One of the parties in the conspiracy has to attempt to carry out the crime for a conviction to occur.
The punishment for this crime varies from state to state: most often a life sentence and in some cases long prison sentences. Worthy of note is the fact that some first-degree murders considered as ‘regular’ might fall under this category.
Another example of a crime against humanity is manslaughter. In such cases, there stands the need for sufficient evidence from the accused to prove that the death of a person was not murder but manslaughter.
Manslaughter, though a murder, the accused faces slightly lenient punishment as opposed to murder because manslaughter refers to a situation where killing proves unintentional. It can be voluntary or involuntary. Manslaughter is punishable by prison sentences, which may vary in length. Sometimes acquittal proves the case especially when the act turns involuntary.
Other classifications of murder include infanticide and suicide. Infanticide I results when an infant is killed within twenty-four hours of it being birthed. The perpetrator is usually the mother.
In the past, this was classified as homicide but in the recent past legislation has been sought to distance it from homicide and make it a separate crime with a lesser prison sentence for the mother. Suicide however proves a bit tricky because most of the times it involves a person taking their own life, thereby making it hard for a conviction.
It may also take other forms such as a suicide pact and mass suicide both of which are handled differently depending on the legislation put in place. Familiarizing oneself with what each murder entails is vital to avoid unnecessary generalization without considering the grounds in which it occurred.
Crimes against the person: Violence
Crime against a person or rather violence forms one of the forms of crimes that cause physical harm to the victims either visible or invisible. Violent crimes may take various forms all the way from assault to rape and child molestation. According to Allison and Lawrence (1993, p.43) rape proves one of the most controversial and misunderstood form of violence against humanity.
In rape, victims are forced to engage in sexual act without their consent. Rape proves a difficult crime to prosecute and obtain conviction because of the difficulty involved in ascertaining the level of force used by the attacker even in the presence of DNA evidence (Wright & Scott, 1997, p.232).
It gets even harder if the victim knows the attacker or they both had a prior relationship. Nevertheless, measures have been put in place to ensure that victims are not subjected to the stigmatization when they seek justice. For example, “shield laws”, initiated in the 1990 has ensured that victims do not take part in court proceedings (Davenport, 2009, p.20). The accused in rape cases usually defend themselves that the sexual act was consented.
Other violent crimes are those committed to the innocent and defenseless. They take the form of child abuse and neglect, child molestation and child pornography. All respective states have taken it upon themselves to put in place bulletproof legislation to protect the rights of children.
One of such initiatives is a law allowing listing and closely monitoring all known sex offenders (The Wetterling Act). The internet has also proved to be quite a playground for sex predators prompting a number of amendments to the existing laws in order to keep up with these developments.
Another common form of violence is that of domestic nature. Domestic violence refers to an abusive behavior from either partner in an intimate relationship including friends, family members or cohabitation. Very few cases of this form of violence are reported as statistics put the figures under 2 per cent.
Given a number of cases degenerate to spousal homicide, the laws put in place against this vice are designed to encourage the victims break their silence before it’s too late for example the advent of mandatory arrest leading to more prosecutions (Lawrence, 1992, p. 23).
Assault is another form of violence charged in the courts. American common law defines assault as attempting to carry out battery. It is usually a misdemeanor unless there is a police officer involved in which case it is aggravated to a felony. Some jurisdictions define assault as a physical contact with another person without his/her consent (Smith, 2009, p. 402). The crime of assault requires both perpetrator and victim to be human and in cases where the attack comes from animals, suing for assault is not permitted.
Common Law Defenses
The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process to be followed when one is indicted for a crime. A defendant may raise a defense in either civil proceedings or criminal prosecutions to avoid liability. There exist an array of defenses worth putting across to counter accusations leveled against persons and if reasonable, they will see exonerated. One of these is justification defense where the said act is justifiable.
For instance, when one argues they did not commit murder rather their actions were in self-defense. However, deadly force can only be in retaliation and one always has the option of withdrawing from the fight. Retreat should be in complete safety if one chooses to do so. The battered woman syndrome (Donald, 1996, p. 32) stands out also as a form of justification defense.
When a defendant argues that they committed an act out of serious fear or under duress, then they are raising the duress defense. For this to be the case a defendant must have incurred serious bodily harm or death, the harm must exceed harm caused by the crime, must have a no way out and must have gotten into the situation through no own fault.
Insanity defense is raised when the accused is not liable for their actions were because of mental illness or defect (Anne, 1997, p. 597). It may also take the form of temporary insanity where the accused acts on an irresistible impulse charge. It may be hard to convince a jury of this defense due to the likelihood of misuse and the complexities that abound.
Other common law defenses include capacity defense where lack of capacity to control one’s actions is argued, infancy defense to be raised by minors who argue their inability to tell right from wrong, intoxication defense raised by those who agree to have been voluntarily intoxicated when committing an act. Competency to stand trial defense ensures defendants permanently or temporarily avoid trial if they have health issues
In conclusion, crime and criminal law stands out as a wide area of study. There exists different types of crimes and every country has set up its own rules and punishments against different crimes committed in its territories. It is of a paramount importance that citizens understand nitty-gritty of these in order to stand a better chance when these crimes are committed against them.
Allison, J., & Lawrence, W. (1993). Rape: The Misunderstood Crime. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Anne, M. (1997). Criminal Law. New York: The Foundation Press.
Davenport, A.U. (2009). Basic criminal law: The constitution, procedure, and crimes. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Donald, A. (1996). More than Victims: Battered Women, the Syndrome Society, and the Law (Morality and Society Series). Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
Lawrence, S. (1992). Policing Domestic Violence. New York: Free Press
Smith, H. (2009). Criminal Law, 9th Ed. New York: Oxford university press.
Wright, R., & Scott, D. (1997). Armed Robbers in Action: Stickups and Street Culture. Boston: Northeastern University Press.