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Canadian and American criminal law

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In Canada, the federal government holds the primary responsibility for enacting criminal law and although the provincial governments are given some degree of control over maintaining justice in the case of lesser crimes, it is the federal government that oversees the major legislation and documentation pertaining to these acts.  The Criminal Code of Canada sets out the proper procedures for prosecuting a criminal who has committed an offense as set out in the Criminal Code or in any adjacent documents containing crimes; persons under the age of 12 cannot be prosecuted and therefore responsibility for crimes may fall to guardians.  The Youth Criminal Justice Act maintains that those under 12 cannot be charged with committing an offense but that anyone older than 12 and younger than 18 will be under specific prosecution guidelines.

Crimes are classified as either Summary Conviction Offenses, Indictable Offenses or Hybrid Offenses; in the latter case a representative of the Crown must step forward and specifically select which offense will be used to prosecute the offender.  The main difference between Canadian and American criminal law systems is that the former will often appeal to a Crown representative; one who is technically apart from the federal government in their affiliation with the British Crown.  In some cases, the Crown can become a last-ditch effort by a person or party to achieve what they set out to do in court.  This is adequately expressed by the Canada’s groundbreaking Person’s Case, whereby 5 women took their case from Canadian federal courts to the Crown itself and were finally awarded the right to vote and be officially known, along with men, as people.

The American criminal law system is centered primarily on the federal government and with no recourse to a Crown representative it falls to the State governments to enact their own grand jury laws.  Since the Supreme Court holds that State cases do not necessary have the right to demand a grand jury trial, it becomes the responsibility of State officials to determine whether such a trial is necessary or not.  Crimes that are universally accepted, most notably murder, are charged on a basis of what is called malum se, while those that have to do more with the ideals of American society are based on malum prohibitum. 

Canadian law in all respects is based upon English Common Law, like many other ex-colonies, while America opted to change its procedures more readily and create a new way of dealing with its economy, politics and criminals.  Because of this we see an approach whereby American criminal law has been unified, at least in theory, so that people might understand how different crimes are related to one another and how penalties might be expected to occur.  In Canada and the United Kingdom, however, English Common Law is an ancient system and as such is not quite so uniform in its interpretation of crime and punishment.  Canadian law leaves more room for independent interpretation from a judge while the American system does not.

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