Anyone interested in understanding criminal law cases must have a good grasp of the principle of legality. In this post, we discuss what the principle of legality is and offer a quick overview of its most important implications. Keep reading to learn more.
What Is the Principle of Legality?
Simply put, the principle of legality exists to guarantee that no individual is punished arbitrarily or retroactively by the state.
While apparently simple, this statement is one of the cornerstones of criminal law. Let’s take a closer look at its four most important implications:
- There can’t be a crime without a law (or in Latin, nullum crime sine lege). In other words, a person can’t face punishment except for an act that was considered a crime by law before they performed it.
- Criminal laws must be interpreted strictly. If the law is vague, then it must be given a narrow interpretation that favors the accused.
- Laws can’t be applied retroactively. This means that a person shouldn’t face criminal punishment for an act that wasn’t considered a crime when they performed it. That’s why the U.S. Constitution (Art 1, § 9 and Art. 1 § 10) explicitly forbids Congress and states from passing laws that apply ex post facto (“after the fact,” in Latin).
- The language used in criminal laws should be clear and unambiguous
The principle of legality is a foundational component of criminal law. In fact, many of its elements date back to Ancient Rome, as you can tell by the Latin phrases we have used throughout this post.
Although there may be minor variations, the principle of legality is recognized by the vast majority of the legal systems around the world, including the United States.
And while this principle looks straightforward on paper, real-life cases are usually more complex, with gray areas that can be difficult to navigate.
That’s why anyone facing criminal charges must seek the assistance of an attorney with in-depth knowledge of the law and extensive experience in its application.
Need Help With a Criminal Law Case in San Bernardino? Contact the EBL Law Group
At the EBL Law Group, we offer dependable, straightforward legal assistance in family law, business law, criminal law, estate planning, civil litigation, immigration law, and real estate law.
We are located in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Call us at (909) 581-4351 for a free consultation, or fill out the contact form on this website to get in touch with our team.