After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
- Explain how criminal law differs from civil law.
- Categorize the various types of crimes and define the most serious felonies.
- Discuss and question the criminal “intent” of a corporation.
- Explain basic criminal procedure and the rights of criminal defendants.
At times, unethical behavior by businesspeople can be extreme enough that society will respond by criminalizing certain kinds of activities. Ponzi schemes, arson, various kinds of fraud, embezzlement, racketeering, foreign corrupt practices, tax evasion, and insider trading are just a few. A corporation can face large fines, and corporate managers can face both fines and jail sentences for violating criminal laws. This chapter aims to explain how criminal law differs from civil law, to discuss various types of crimes, and to relate the basic principles of criminal procedure.
- 6.1: The Nature of Criminal Law
- Criminal law is the most ancient branch of the law. Many wise observers have tried to define and explain it, but the explanations often include many complex and subtle distinctions. A traditional criminal law course would include a lot of discussions on criminal intent, the nature of criminal versus civil responsibility, and the constitutional rights accorded the accused. But in this chapter, we will consider only the most basic aspects of intent, responsibility, and constitutional rights.
- 6.2: Types of Crimes
- Most classifications of crime turn on the seriousness of the act. In general, seriousness is defined by the nature or duration of the punishment set out in the statute. A felony is a crime punishable (usually) by imprisonment of more than one year or by death. The major felonies include murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, embezzlement, insider trading, fraud, and racketeering. All other crimes are usually known as misdemeanors, petty offenses, or infractions.
- 6.3: The Nature of a Criminal Act
- To be guilty of a crime, you must have acted. Mental desire or intent to do so is insufficient. But what constitutes an act? This question becomes important when someone begins to commit a crime, or does so in association with others, or intends to do one thing but winds up doing something else.
- 6.4: Responsibility
- The mens rea requirement depends on the nature of the crime and all the circumstances surrounding the act. In general, though, the requirement means that the accused must in some way have intended the criminal consequences of his act. Suppose that Charlie gives Gabrielle a poison capsule to swallow. That is the act. If Gabrielle dies, is Charlie guilty of murder? The answer depends on what his state of mind was. Obviously, if he gave it to her intending to kill her, the act was murder.
- 6.5: Procedure
- The procedure for criminal prosecutions is complex. Procedures will vary from state to state.
- 6.6: Constitutional Rights of the Accused
- The rights of those accused of a crime are spelled out in four of the ten constitutional amendments that make up the Bill of Rights (Amendments Four, Five, Six, and Eight). For the most part, these amendments have been held to apply to both the federal and the state governments.