Category: Law Essay
Criminal Law

Constitutional Limitations

One of the Constitutional limitations on criminal law is the prohibition of ex post facto laws. By definition, ex post facto law is the law passed after the occurrence of an event, punishing the conduct that was not criminal when committed. The ex post facto clause forbids such laws since they limit criminal law as a result of improper legislative interference in the judicial law, the excessive power of federal and state legislatures, and acts of injustice. The prohibition of ex post facto laws protect the rights of citizens and prevents possible vindictive acts. Moreover, there is no doubt that citizens should be aware of all the active laws and punishments for them.

The principal public policy reason for limiting ex post facto laws is that people need to know what kind of behavior is lawful and what is unlawful. Citizens should be aware of what particular acts they can be punished for and to what extent. In case a person does something that is believed to be a lawful act, claiming that this act is unlawful after it was committed will violate human rights. Thus, if citizens do not know what acts can be committed and what cannot, it is impossible to inflict punishment.

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Prohibiting enforcement of ex post facto laws is beneficial for the nation since it prevents the judicial system from acting unlawfully, making preferences towards some people and having prejudices towards others. In addition, if people are aware of what they are allowed and prohibited to do, they can choose whether to behave in accordance with the law. In this case, it will be absolutely lawful to punish them for committing a wrongful act. Moreover, citizens’ rights will not be violated. The cons of prohibiting ex post facto laws can be indicated only by looking into particular criminal cases and seeing whether ex post facto laws are applicable personally to them.

Criminal Conspiracy

By definition, conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a criminal act in the future. There are many federal conspiracy statutes. One of them outlaws conspiracy to commit another criminal act while others prohibit conspiracy to engage in specific forms of proscribed conduct. Accused conspirators should be tried together, and the statements of one of them can be used against all others. Nevertheless, due to the unusual nature of the conspiracy, there are also exceptions from it. For example, no conspiracy can take place between people under the age of criminal responsibility. Conspiracy can be prosecuted when an overt act is committed.

An overt act of one of the co-conspirators is clear evidence of an inferred criminal intent, as opposed to a mere intention in the mind to commit a crime. It can be a step towards executing conspiracy. Therefore, an overt act is not necessarily a criminal act, but a deed that demonstrates a conspiracy in action. In cases of criminal conspiracy, an overt act needs to be proven so that people suspected in the crime could be convicted.

However, in some cases, an overt act is not required. For example, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the overt act element is not needed for drug conspiracy statutes. In addition, conspiracy in money laundering does not require an overt act either. Thus, conspiracies that threaten the government and national security do not need an overt act to punish conspirators, but only require substantial evidence that they plan to commit a crime in the future.

Fetal Homicide

Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Previously, under the common law of the US, killing a fetus was not murder since a fetus was not considered a human being. However, some states have changed this by defining fetal homicide, or feticide, as murder. It is in the public interest to make feticide a separate crime to kill a fetus since the law protects the rights and security of pregnant women. Nevertheless, there exists a conflict between fetal homicide laws and abortion rights. First of all, pro-abortion activists say that a pregnant woman needs to have a choice whether to give life to a baby or not. Therefore, she has the right to perform an abortion. However, while the fetus is recognized as a human being, she can be charged for fetal homicide in case she does an abortion, which violates her rights and freedom of choice. This fact creates a ground for thinking of what stage an unborn child is considered a human being whose life is protected by the government.

Three standards exist to determine whether a fetus is a “person” for the purposes of homicide law. First, the born-alive requirement means that punishment for homicide is applied to a child born alive. Namely, this is the fetus that is able to breathe and already has a heartbeat, pulsation of the umbilical cord, and voluntarily muscle movement. Second, the viability standard is referred to as a fetus that is able to survive outside the uterus. This standard depends on the child’s organ maturity, which is usually reached on the 26th week of pregnancy. Third, the conception standard means that the fetus needs to be protected by the law from the moment of its conception. What needs to be applied in the modern statutes is the viability standard since in case a fetus cannot exist separately from its mother, it can hardly be considered a human being. Only in case, it is able to survive after being separated from the womb, criminal laws should be applicable to the crimes against it.

West Virginia is one of the states that has a statute recognizing “an embryo or fetus as a distinct unborn victim of certain crimes of violence against a person, including homicide and manslaughter”. Many other states have similar laws, which are good for protecting human rights, but still, need improvement.

Athletes and Crime

There have been numerous instances when amateur or professional athletes were charged with crimes for physical conduct against the rules of the game. Many of these cases took place within the game itself. One of the examples of such misconduct took place in Canada on February 21, 2000, during a hockey game. An NHL player, Marty McSorley, hit another player, Donald Brashear, in the head with his stick. This was the result of a fight between the two players. As a result of the hit, Brashear’s helmet fell off, and he collapsed. Furthermore, he hit his head on the ice and lost consciousness. As a result of the fall, Brashear suffered from a Grade 3 concussion.

McSorley committed this crime as a result of his anger towards the opponent. This can even be called heat of passion. Indeed, being in a calm state of mind, a person would not hit another person with a stick. Moreover, McSorley did it so hard that Brashear fell on the ice and lost consciousness. This means that the force of the stroke was extremely high. It is obvious that after this incident McSorley was suspended from the NHL for the rest of the season and charged with aggravated assault. Moreover, the player was sentenced to 18 months of probation. He has not played another game of NHL after the incident. Brashear, in his turn, returned to the field by the end of the season.

Spectator violence at sporting events is a frequently repeated situation. It includes verbal and physical aggression as well as property destruction and gesturing. A combination of various characteristics contributes to the occurrence of this kind of violence. Those are noise level, performance proximity, the significance of the event, crowd demographics, availability of alcohol, and some others. All of these factors increase the likelihood of interpersonal aggression and create conditions for violence among spectators.

Crimes in the Bible

The Bible tells about many crimes, including murders, rapes, thefts, etc. One of the most memorable ones is the story of Barabbas. He was a murderer and the leader of a rebellion. His story unfolds when Pilate asks the crowd what criminal should be released, and the crowd chooses Barabbas instead of Jesus (Mark 15:7, New international version). There is not much information about this man in the Bible, and the reader does not know his entire story, including the reasons for the rebellion he led. However, what is clear is that Barabbas murdered a man but was not punished for this act. The crowd, encouraged by chief priests who were ruled by self-interest, ordered to release Barabbas in order not to release Jesus (Mark 15:10-11, New international version). Barabbas’s crime had certain elements of a criminal offense. First of all, it is the prohibited conduct that revealed itself in the revolt he organized. Apart from this, he committed the murder of another human being, having an intent to do so, which is the second element. Thirdly, Barabbas surely had malice aforethought to kill this person.

According to the definition, murder is unlawful homicide with malice aforethought. In the modern world, the crowd usually does not choose whether to punish a criminal or not. Instead, professional lawyers and judges contribute to this. Nevertheless, there are examples of murderers who were not punished for the acts they committed. Some of these crimes were not solved, whereas others had certain elements that prevented judges from making a decision to punish the person. Further, one of the modern examples of unpunished crimes will be discussed.

In August 2014, a police officer from Ferguson, Mo., killed an unarmed teenager Mike Brown in the street. There was evidence that police officers from this city are prone to racism. There have been many instances when a police officer abused African Americans and was not punished for that. People living in the area were filled with indignation and tried to revolt against the decision not to punish the officer, saying that no crime should remain unpunished regardless of the fact who committed it. Murder is an extremely serious crime that should be punished in the first place. What makes this murder similar to the one described in the Bible is the fact that the murderer was not punished for the criminal act. Indeed, no person who committed murder should be released unpunished, even if he or she is a representative of the law, or if he or she was chosen by the public to be released.

Terrorism Suppression and Freedom

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led to the introduction of laws that included freedom limitations aimed at fighting terrorism and preserving national security. However, some of these new laws had negative effects on peaceful citizens.

First of all, stricter immigration laws were introduced. Muslim men were the first to suffer from these laws since many of them were seized and convicted for being involved in terrorist groups, even despite having little evidence. In addition, some of them were either denied entering or leaving the US or deported. Secondly, the USA PATRIOT Act was enacted, according to which the government should catch suspected criminals before the terrorist or criminal act is committed. However, in reality, the police sometimes have little evidence when they accuse people of terrorism. Indeed, many charges against people who provided weapons and material support to terroristic groups were correct. However, a large number of citizens were detained in harsh conditions for a long time before being proven innocent and released. Thirdly, the PATRIOT Act violates the rights of common citizens provided by the 4th Amendment. The latter says that the police cannot perform seizures and searches without having a warrant, thus securing the privacy of citizens. However, the PATRIOT Act ignores it, and now the police do not have to show a warrant before performing a search. Moreover, any company can be forced to give private records to its customers to the government.

The abovementioned facts are examples of violations of human rights and freedoms of privacy and movement guaranteed by the Constitution. Indeed, fighting terrorism is an essential task today. However, the government should not abuse the innocent and limit their freedoms. Therefore, some of these limitations need to be reassessed and improved.

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