Criminal law covers a vast area of our legal structure. Unlike many other areas of study, students enter law school with some exposure to and ideas about the subject, gathered from past courses in college, news, reports, personal experiences, novels, movies, and television. However, the actual practice of criminal law includes much more than the courtroom drama or police encounter. From the theories of punishment which inform the creation of laws that define crime, through the procedures and rules which regulate the courts through the prosecution and defense of those statutes, into the theory and politics of punishments, the study of criminal law touches every aspect of legal education. Unlike most other areas of legal study, criminal law is public law, meaning that the state is both the accuser and the victim; the state manages the courts and often supplies the attorneys of the accused. Therefore, the good of the generalized population is the touchstone of criminal law, rather than the vindication of the harm against an individual. To that end, criminal law starts with the creation of statutes defining crimes, procedural rules enacted by legislatures or courts, and administrative laws regulating the punishment and incarceration of wrongdoers. Add on top of all of this the state and federal constitutional provisions that ensure that the awesome power of the state, once turned toward a citizen, is restrained and applied equally and fairly. In some cases, international laws and treaties will also act as a check on the ill use of power against an accused.
Increasing the complexity of the modern study of criminal law is the fact that what was once primarily a local or state created and run system has been increasingly federalized so that single acts might be the subject of multiple state and federal prosecutions. Criminal punishments are no longer focused exclusively on street level actions but include punishments to aid in regulation of contracts, financial institutions, production and sale of goods, environmental protections, taxation and a whole host of other legal relationships once regulated by civil law alone. Because of these interwoven legal structures, and because each criminally charged act is intensely fact bound, criminal law is still the area of law where the most litigation -- pre-trial, trial, and appeal --- occurs. Therefore, a rich understanding of lawyering skills is critical to the practice of criminal law.
Just as the study of criminal law touches all aspects of law, so too does the practice of criminal law. Historically, many of Suffolk's graduates have found careers as prosecutors and defense attorneys. Equally important is our graduates work in legislatures crafting laws and as Judges in state and federal courts hearing criminal cases. Additionally, a solid understanding of criminal laws in specific regulated areas (finance, the environment, product export, intellectual property etc.) is critical to success as a lawyer in those fields.