Law is a systematic system of rules developed and administered by governmental or social institutions to control behavior, with the precise definition also a matter of long-standing debate. In layman’s terms, the law is “the application of universal principles of conduct to specific ends”. It can be regarded as the study of societal conduct, its concepts and origins, its rules and effects on individuals. In other words, law is “the knowledge of what is legally obligatory and what is morally obligatory”.
The study of law is not as straightforward as it may first appear. There are two kinds of law: civil and criminal law. Civil law is that which governs relations among individuals, while criminal law deals with offenses against the state, society or government. The former governs conduct within the parameters of the state, while the latter is beyond the jurisdiction of any state. There are many kinds of criminal law, including civil law, common law, penal law, felony law, conspiracy law, crimes against property, crimes against humanity, terrorism law, etc.
A brief survey of the history of jurisdiction shows that it can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman law, respectively. In ancient days, Greek jurisprudence was transmitted via written documents while Roman law was orally transmitted via court cases and the like. With the evolution of both judicial and legislative systems in the modern world, jurisprudence has become part and parcel of governmental institutions. This development is marked not only by the growth of technical and procedural differences between jurisdictions, but also by the expansion of societal perspectives, with legal rules taking on a more subjective character.
Historically, most laws were enacted or codified in session by the legislative body. Once a bill is passed into law, it becomes an act of Congress. Every bill is then reviewed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and either passed or rejected by the respective committees. The bills then are forwarded to the respective judicial branches for review before the courts. This process continues through the years until the constitution is revised.
Since the formulation of the constitution and the creation of the U.S. government, the development of law has proceeded at a rapid pace. Today, the courts have the power to interpret and determine legal issues involving property, corporate affairs, trusts, corporate derivatives, taxes, felonies and misdemeanors, intellectual property, commercial activities, administrative law, patent law, professional liability and much more. There are literally thousands of laws in effect, making it difficult to keep track of and to determine how each provision applies to a specific case. For example, what may be a misdemeanor under one provision of law may be considered a felony under another provision. This means that if you commit a crime, you must know the exact elements of that crime, and the courts will require you to give them evidence in order to prove your guilt.
Another unique feature of civil law is that it includes an appeals process to the courts. Unlike criminal law, there is no trial, plea bargaining or no jury trial. The burden of proof in civil law is far less and can often be resolved without a lengthy court trial. The courts, acting on behalf of the citizens, have all power to decide what the appropriate penalty should be for the defendant. This includes capital punishment, which is currently a common practice in the criminal justice system, although it has never been used in civil law in the United States.