Criminal law concerns the system of legal rules that define what conduct is classified as a crime and how the government may prosecute individuals that commit crimes. Federal, state, and local governments all have penal codes that explain the specific crimes that they prohibit and the punishments that criminals may face. Individuals who violate federal, state, and local laws may face fines, probation, or incarceration. Lawsuits against criminals are initiated by prosecuting attorneys who act on behalf of the government to enforce the law.
A crime is any act or omission of an act in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it. Most crimes are defined by statute, and they vary tremendously across different states and counties. The Model Penal Code (MPC) provides a good overview of the most common types of crimes, while the U.S. Code provides a list of all federal crimes. For a list of crimes in your state or local municipality, it is best to check your local penal code.
While specific criminal acts may vary by jurisdiction, they can be broadly characterized as “felonies” and “misdemeanors.” Felonies include more serious crimes, like murder or rape, and are usually punishable by imprisonment of a year or more. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses and are punishable by less than a year of imprisonment or fines.