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What is substantive criminal law?

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Mayavadi Rajesh

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For a layman understanding, the difficult law terms are nearly impossible — for example, substantive criminal law. Most of you will only understand the criminal part and not the full meaning for what the term stands for. To define it in simple terms, substantive law is a set of laws that governs the behavior of the members of the society. In civil law, it stands for rights and responsibilities, and in criminal law, it stands for crimes and punishments.

Substantive criminal law in the current scenario

Substantive criminal law is known to deal with the behavior that either makes something a crime or not. When a person commits a crime, there should be certain specific elements that make it a crime. For example, if you have to charge a person with burglary, the events that need to be present include:

1.    Unlawfully entering or breaking,

2.    Into a building or any structure

3.    With the sole intention to commit a crime.

Without these elements, you cannot charge a person with burglary. This is only a fine example. The same rule applies to every other type of crime that may be committed by an individual.

Based on the jurisdiction or state, substantive criminal law may differ. That’s because there are no specific standard elements for every type of crime or for every jurisdiction for that matter. For example, in California, if you are to accuse a person of assault, you need to prove the following:

1.    The accused touched the victim with the sole motive to bring him harm.

2.    The accused touched the victim without his consent.

3.    The accused harmed the victim.

4.    A third reasonable person would be offended by the touch of the accused.

If you are unable to prove any of these above points, you cannot charge a person of assaulting you.

Substantive criminal law is quite complicated, and unless you are a lawyer or student of law, it can be very difficult to understand all of this. You need to look into every element of a crime to accuse the person of committing that particular crime. This is very important as the accused will be punished based on the crime he has committed. For this, you need the help of evidence and witnesses so that you have enough information on the case.

To conclude, it can be said that substantive criminal law is an interesting part of the law, provided that you understand it properly. 

Read more: What is the purpose of the criminal justice system?


max marrie

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Thanks a lot for this information. I was so confused when one of my friends suggested that I need to  hire a substantive criminal lawyer for my criminal case.  After reading your post, I am able to understand about the substantive criminal lawyer. 

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