As our postmodern society evolves, the conditions of society must constantly adapt, and in doing so, the necessary evolution of criminal law develops. Law has gone from informal to formal noted as either public or private, and classified on a broad spectrum accordingly. Criminal law has made note of causations and exceptions, accounting not only for the crime but for the actor himself and his victim. Criminal law seeks information about who commits crimes and why, as well as how crime can be stopped. In early societies informal rules were used to maintain social order and stability; the rules were not written but passed on verbally.
Such rules were recognized by a given culture as the way things are done- classified as folkways or mores. The term more refers more to the most serious rules of society which warrant severe punishment, the two worst offenses being treason and incest. On the contrary, folkway refers to the less severe offenses which would then be classified as either public or private wrongs. These earlier societies also warranted a “fair payback” system, which just provided compensation for loss to victim from a private wrong. As technologies advanced and societies adapted, the population was growing and transitioning away from subsistence.
This then brought forth the idea of a third party interaction or a mediator in law. Common law was also beginning to be observed on the basis of long time precedent pertaining to common problems. Common law is still said to exist today, however many of these common laws have been written into our present U. S. legal system, which is under constant reform. Common law was established in early tenth-century England when judges would decide what to do in each instance of crime based on local customs and standards of conduct.
These decisions would eventually be written down so judges could refer to them in future decisions, and eventually a standardized set of legal rules and principles developed. As a new rule became applicable to an increasing number of cases it became precedent, then would become the rule of thumb in all similar cases. Common law could be classified as either mala in se-which were inherently evil- or mala prohibitum – which were statutory and reflected social conditions. Common law, like that of our current system, also saw the need for constant evolution so as to fit particular incidents judges might incur.
As law further evolved, it became apparent that law could be classified in different ways, such as those between individuals- criminal law- and those between an individual and the government- civil law. Each classification previously mentioned then could be further classified; criminal law could be either procedural or substantive. Procedural criminal law refers to the set of laws put forth as the basic rules of appropriate practice in the criminal justice system, which include laws pertaining to evidence, arrest, search, etc.
Substantive law then refers to laws that define crimes and their punishments involving mental and physical elements, categories, and defenses of the crime. Common criminal law includes not only crimes against the person and property but also includes incomplete offenses such as attempt or conspiracy. These criminal offenses are classified by severity and include misdemeanor, felony, and treason offenses. Criminal behavior today is defined primarily by statutory law rather than by the more traditional common law, as it is more effective in dealing with changing social and moral concerns.
The content of criminal law today is also shaped by judicial decision warranting new precedent over what is enforceable and within the realm of control. Criminal law will never be concrete since it is constantly evolving so as to reflect changing social and economic situations or because of social or cultural shifts in a given society. New laws are often made to overrule or eliminate more dated laws. Criminal law is thus constantly evolving to meet the changing conditions of society, however criminal law continually works to ensure the safety of citizens and the retribution of those who intend harm throughout time.