Criminal Law Terminology

Criminal Law Terminology



Criminal Law Terminology

Deference between felonies and misdemeanors

A felony is a grave offence whose imprisonment sentence exceed one year. However, the sentence might be less than one year depending on the statute limits and judges discretion. Felonies include crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery with violence. Because of their grave nature, felonies are tried in higher courts and served in prisons. The statute limits vary depending on area jurisdiction and level of seriousness. Felonies are sentenced depending on their level of seriousness. Class A felonies carry harsher penalties than Class B and C. Conversely, misdemeanors are minor crimes. Such minor crimes include petty theft, traffic violations and public nuisance. The imprisonment sentences does not exceed one year. They can be tried in lower courts such as police, justice or municipal courts. Offenders serve their sentences in county or city jails rather than prisons. Like felonies, Class A misdemeanors carry severe punishment than those in Class B and C.

The Doctrine of Stare Decsis

The doctrine of stare decisis and the principles of precedent are policies governing courts to ensure that they adhere to judgments made in prior rulings when sentencing similar cases. Stare decisis is a Latin word meaning ‘let the decision stand.’ It is a common law tradition that requires judges should make reference to precedent cases when making a ruling. The doctrine is intended to ensure uniformity in sentences relating to the similar legal problems. However, the doctrine should be a guideline for judges and not a confinement. This is because the doctrine will be ineffective a judgment is based on prior cases that were harshly sentenced. To eliminate this problem, the United States Supreme Court should deal with legal problems of first impression and resolve contradicting interpretations by overruling controversial precedents (Fowler & Jeon, 2008). The rulings made by such high courts become the judicial precedent that guides lower courts. The doctrine of stare decisis is used to classify felonies and misdemeanors into Classes A, B or C. Judges make reference to prior judgments to categorize an offence and charge a standardized sentence.

Corpus delicti

Corpus delicti is a Latin word meaning ‘body of crime.’ It has been used in the legal field to refer to the body or material substance upon which the offence was committed. Corpus delicti may include corpses, charred remains of a building or machinery. It is to be used by the prosecutor as evidence to prove the crimes alleged to have been committed by the accused. Unjust convictions are made in cases where there is no corpse delicti to prove that a crime was committed.

For a just conviction, a prosecutor should be required to provide proof beyond any reasonable doubt, that the accused committed the alleged crime. According to Linkon (1952), confession or admission alone without evidence is not substantial enough to establish the occurrence of a crime. There are three major elements of Corpus delicti that have to be proven for there to be an effective prosecution. The first element is proof of injury or loss. The second element requires the prosecutor to establish that the criminal act was the cause of loss or injury. The third element requires the prosecutor to prove that the accused committed the act that resulted to the loss or injury. These three elements will ensure that no person is convicted out of mistake, fabrication or derangement. Substantial evidence protects innocent people from false accusations and ultimately unjust conviction. However, it is also important to note that guilty people can also be set free because of insufficient evidence.


Fowler, J. H., & Jeon, S. (2008). The Authority of Supreme Court Precedent. California: Carlifonia University Press.

Linkon, G. (1952). The Corpus Delicti: Confession Problem. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 43. Retrieved from

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