Basic Concepts of Criminal Law


Basic Concepts of Criminal Law



In the United States today criminal justice can vary from state to state, as various states alter the Modern Penal Code to suit their own local preferences and concerns. In Eastern Europe, the post-Communist countries are quickly adopting new criminal codes to reflect their specific national concerns as they gain autonomy from what was once a centralized Soviet policy. As commonalities among countries and states disintegrate, how are we to view the basic concepts of criminal law as a whole?

Eminent legal scholar George Fletcher acknowledges that criminal law is becoming increasingly localized, with every country and state adopting their own conception of punishable behavior, determining their own definitions of offenses. Yet by taking a step back from the details and linguistic variations of the criminal codes, Fletcher is able to perceive an underlying unity among diverse systems of criminal justice. Challenging common assumptions, he discovers a unity that emerges not on the surface of statutory rules and case law but in the underlying debates that inform them.

Basic Concepts of Criminal Law identifies a set of twelve distinctions that shape and guide the controversies that inevitably break out in every system of criminal justice. Devoting a chapter to each of these twelve concepts, Fletcher maps out what he considers to be the deep structure of all systems of criminal law.

Understanding these distinctions will not only enable students to appreciate the universal fundamental ideas of criminal law, but will enable them to understand the significance of local details and variations.



Publication Date



Oxford University Press


New York, NY


"...a concise, fair-minded, and remarkably clear synthesis of virtually all of the major debates in contemporary criminal law theory ... Fletcher ... works masterfully, in order to test the specifically universal and timeless claims of his theory ... the readers cannot help but be impressed by what Fletcher has achieved ... his dichotomy theory is rich enough to provide the tools for analyzing many of the examined anomalies."
Michigan Law Review


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.


Criminal Law | Ethics and Political Philosophy | International Law | Law | Law and Philosophy | Philosophy


Center on Global Governance

Basic Concepts of Criminal Law

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