For the final session of the Mini-Law School at the University of Colorado, we learned about criminal law. Some of the important elements included common law (going back to England), statutory law (passing legislation) and precedence (calling upon earlier rulings). Criminal law differs from civil law because the penalties entail taking away someone’s liberty through jail, probation or parole. Also, during trials it is the state versus an accused party. The victim is not directly represented but may be called as a witness.
We also learned about the changes in juvenile law, going from the 1800s where there was no juvenile court and anyone at least fourteen was treated as an adult, to significant protection for juveniles in the 1960s, to more strict sentences in the 1980s-1990s, to a recent movement to not apply death penalties or mandatory life sentences to juveniles.
We wrapped up with a discussion of judicial activism (more interpretation where the court, in effect, makes laws) vs. independent judgment (only relying on a strict use of existing laws, in the extreme going back to the constitution alone).
This program was very useful in giving me an overview of the legal system that I can use in my mystery writing.