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Basics of Law (Part 1) S.doc
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Private wrongs

The legal term for a private wrong is tort. A tort is a type of civil, or private, wrong defined as harm to a person through the unlawful or dangerous activity of others. Whereas the purpose of criminal law is to protect the interests of the public as a whole by punishing the offender, the purpose of the law of torts is to protect the interests of individuals by granting payment for damages they may have suffered.

If, for example, someone eats spoiled food in a restaurant and becomes ill, he may sue the restaurant owner for payment to cover medical expenses. He may also sue for punitive, or additional, damages. Such matters as traffic accidents, slander, libel, personal injury, medical malpractice, and trespass are dealt with by tort law.

There are some instances when the same wrong can be both a crime, or public wrong, and a tort, or private wrong. A thief who steals a piece of jewelry commits the crime of larceny and the tort of conversion. Conversion can be defined as the unauthorized possession of personal property without the owner's consent. If an act is both a crime and a tort, it can be dealt with by prosecutions in both criminal and civil courts.

Felony and misdemeanor

Not all crimes are viewed as equally serious by the law or by the public in general. Failing to put money in a parking meter is obviously a lesser offense than burglary. The law has recognized these distinctions and divided crimes into the categories of felony and misdemeanor.

Until recently, British common law classified offenses as treasons, felonies, and misdemeanors. Among the felonies recognized under common law were homicide, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, and larceny. In the modern period the number of felonies has been significantly enlarged by legislation to include such offenses as kidnapping, tax evasion, and drug dealing.

Misdemeanor is a term applied in Anglo-American law to offenses that are neither treasons nor felonies. In the United Stales there is a sub-classification of misdemeanor called petty offense. Among the more common petty offenses are disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and ordinary automobile driving violations. Some sex offenses are misdemeanors, while others are classified as felonies.

Some misdemeanors are, like felonies, indictable offenses, or those subject to action by a grand jury. Some types of assault, perjury, minor sex offenses, selling liquor to minors, and operating an illegal gambling establishment are among the more common misdemeanors of this type. These differ from felonies largely in the punishments for them. Misdemeanors in the United Stales are those offenses punishable by fines or by imprisonment in a local jail, while felonies are punishable by terms in a stale or federal prison.

Crimes against the state

Broadly speaking, all crime is against the state, or government, insofar as it disturbs the public order and tranquility. But there are three criminal activities that are directed against the existence of the state itself: treason, sedition, and rebellion. Treason is the crime of betraying a nation by acts considered dangerous to its security. Selling military secrets to a foreign power is one example: giving aid to the enemy in time of war is another. Sedition refers generally to the offense of organizing or encouraging opposition to the government, especially in speeches or writings, that falls short of reason. In wartime seditious acts may often be classified as treason. Rebellion is the attempted overthrow of a government; if it succeeds it is a coup, or revolution.

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