The criminal justice system covers a wide range of prohibited conduct, with laws often separated into categories based on the nature of the offense. “Crimes against the person,” for example, might include murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, and assault. The category of “crimes against property” includes theft, robbery, and numerous financial crimes. Other offenses defy easy categorization, since they focus less on the nature of the offense itself and more on some other feature, such as the age of the alleged offender or the means of committing the offense.
Federal Criminal System
The federal criminal system mirrors state systems in some ways, with overlapping laws regarding offenses like murder, kidnapping, theft, and assault. Federal law applies to these types of offenses if they took place on federal property, or if they cross state lines, such as a kidnapping involving transport of the victim from one state to another.
Other federal crimes involve matters that fall exclusively within the authority of the federal government, either through powers granted by the Constitution or a federal statute. The Constitution gives the federal government exclusive power, for example, to make and regulate money and to set immigration policy. As a result, federal authorities handle all investigations and prosecutions for money counterfeiting and immigration violations, along with procedures like deportation. Federal statutes give the U.S. government authority to prosecute certain acts that affect interstate commerce, such as racketeering and insider trading.
Computer technology has advanced at a rapid pace in recent years, and computers now play an essential role both in business and in people’s personal lives. Crime has also spread into this new domain, often faster than the criminal justice system can adapt. “Cybercrime” is a broad category of offenses that involve the use of computers and computer networks. In some cases, computers are the means of committing an offense, such as the theft of customer financial information from a retail store’s computers for use in credit card fraud. An increasingly common cyber-extortion scheme involves stealing information from a person’s computer or internet account, such as intimate or revealing photographs, and threatening to expose them. Computers may also be the targets of criminal schemes, commonly known as cyberattacks, intended to disrupt or shut down entire systems.
Crimes committed by minors, generally defined as someone under the age of 18, are often handled by the juvenile justice system instead of the regular criminal system. The goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Courts may allow minors to be tried as adults in situations such as an especially serious offense like murder, or when a minor is a repeat offender. In addition to crimes like theft and assault, the juvenile system also handles matters that are unique to young people, such as underage possession of alcohol, underage driving, and truancy.
Probation and Parole
A defendant in a criminal case may be able to avoid a jail or prison sentence through probation, where a judge enters a verdict and pronounces a sentence but orders the sentence probated for a period of time. If the defendant completes all of the court’s requirements and stays out of trouble during that time period, he or she is released from probation. Parole has some similarities to probation, for it involves early release from prison on the condition of completing certain tasks and avoiding additional legal trouble.
Failure to meet any condition of parole or probation, including regular meetings with a parole or probation officer, could result in revocation. A motion to revoke initiates a new proceeding in criminal court. If a court revokes a person’s probation or parole, it could add new conditions, extend the court’s period of supervision, or order completion of the original sentence of incarceration.