Criminal law is fairly straightforward. It is based on two basic sets of rules: “must do” and “mustn’t do”. Anything included in the “mustn’t do” list is against the law. A person who breaks the law is said to have committed a criminal offence, and will be prosecuted and punished according to the gravity of the offence.
The law determines which types of behaviour are unacceptable, and people who do not take this into account may find themselves the subject of a criminal trial and receiving punishment or disgrace. The application of the law lies with the State, and therefore the branch of criminal law is basically the State versus the suspect (“The accused”).
In addition to murder, rape and theft, there are many other categories and sub-categories of criminal offences. For example, the category of violent crime includes manslaughter, murder, assault and battery; the category of crime against property includes is burglary, theft, armed robbery, etc.
The role of criminal law is to determine, according to the specific facts of the case, if the behaviour of the defendant was criminal or not, whether the act was intentional or not, if the act was done negligently, if the mental condition of the accused allows him to be tried, and so on. At the end of the process, if the accused is convicted the court will pass sentence.
The sentence will obviously depend on the gravity of the offence. The court must take into account whether the accused already has a criminal record, if it is a first offence or the repetition of an offence, if the accused has accomplices, and so on. If there are extenuating circumstances, such as self-defence, the penalty will be reduced accordingly.
Glossary of terms:
- Police investigation
A police investigation is the process during which the police attempt to determine the facts of a case, by seeking evidence and interviewing possible witnesses in order to prove the guilt of a suspect or suspects. The goal of the police is to maintain law and order. There will be police investigations for many types of incidents, such as road accidents, work accidents, criminal offences, locating missing persons, detection and return of lost or stolen property, suspected arson, etc.
When a criminal offence has been committed and the police have a suspect, a document called an indictment must be prepared, to initiate criminal proceedings. In Israel, an indictment is served by a licensed attorney, lawyer or a police officer. The indictment lists the criminal charges, the details of the accused and the accuser and at which court the indictment was presented, and then goes on to describe the facts of the case, and details of any witnesses.
- Pre-trial remand
When, after investigation and indictment, a suspect becomes “the accused”, the prosecutor may ask the court to put him on remand, which means that he will remain in custody until the end of the trial. The court must then decide if the accused is a danger, either to himself or to the public, if there is a risk that he will seek to disrupt the judicial process, if there is a reasonable chance that he will be found guilty. If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, the court will authorise the remand. In the most serious cases, where the sentence is life imprisonment, pre-trial remand is automatic.
Extradition is the process by which two countries cooperate with regard to someone suspected of, or convicted of, a crime. If that person has fled to another country in order to escape the law, that country may extradite him back to the country where the crime was committed. Extradition agreements exist between many countries in the fight against crime, money laundering and global terrorism.
- Offences involving Weapons
Buying, carrying or owning firearms without a licence is a criminal offence which carries a sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment. The definition of a firearm is simple: any item that can fire bullets, bombs, projectiles, shells, etc., any item that can emit harmful substances, ammunition, grenades, bombs and anything explosive.
- Possession of knives or brass knuckles
It is illegal to carry a knife or brass knuckles outside one’s house.They are considered to be weapons in the eyes of the law. This offence carries a sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment.
- Sexual offences
There are many types of sexual offences, such as indecent assault (in public or otherwise), rape, paedophilia, non-consensual sodomy, sexual assault and more. Each of these offences has different types, e.g. for rape, there is rape without consent, rape achieved through fraudulently obtained consent, rape of a minor, rape by taking advantage of the victim’s weakness, and so on. The prison sentence will depend on the severity of the offence.
- Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is when an individual (male or female) puts another person (male or female) in an uncomfortable situation with words or behaviour of a sexual nature. Verbal sexual harassment includes speech with sexual connotations by phone, messages, letters, jokes or other means, physical sexual harassment includes cornering a person, any unwanted physical contact, pressure to engage in sexual activity and even longing glances. The penalty for sexual harassment is imprisonment, with the length of sentence depending on the severity of the harassment.
- Indecent Assault
Touching or any other act, without consent, for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification is immoral and unjust, and such acts are therefore considered indecent. Exposing one’s genitals in a public place is also a crime.
- Prostitution and pornography
Divided into several categories, offences relating to prostitution and pornography can result in long prison sentences. These offences include procurement for sex (pimping), forcing a person into prostitution, and renting premises for the purpose of offering prostitution services, amongst others.
- Unlawful killing or homicide
This includes anything which causes the death of a person, such as assassination, murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, etc. The difference is in the mental element which accompanies the act. For example, in a premeditated murder the mental element is the goal or the decision to kill a person. In manslaughter, that is to say, a person’s death is caused without the intent to kill, by the perpetrator being careless regarding the outcome of his actions. A car accidents may involve a case of causing death by negligence, but if the driver was under the influence of drugs the crime becomes manslaughter, which is more serious, and could lead to a sentence of many years imprisonment.
Murder is the most serious crime known to man. There are several types of unlawful killing, but murder is premeditated, i.e. the killer decides, plans, prepares and directs the killing of another person. Sometimes lack of premeditation can still result in a charge of murder, for example when a robbery ends in involuntary killing. Euthanasia is when a person kills another in order that the second person will no longer suffer from an illness, assassination is when a person decides to kill a politician or public figure. A conviction of murder results in a sentence of life imprisonment, except in special cases, such as the accused having a severe mental disorder, where the sentences may be reduced or the killer admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
An “assault” can happen anywhere, with or without the use of a weapon. Examples include pulling out and using a knife, punching someone, or using brass knuckles. Any incident in which someone pushes, hits, uses force or even touches another person without his permission and causes damage or inconvenience to that person is considered an assault, which is a criminal offense. Assault can result in between 2 to 14 years imprisonment, depending on the severity of the attack.
- Theft, robbery and armed robbery
Taking something which belongs to another person without their permission is theft, but when the thief also uses violence, the crime is known as robbery, which is even more serious. The worst type of robbery is armed robbery, where the thief uses a weapon such as a knife, gun, or stone. Whether the thief brought the weapon with him or used something he found at the scene of the attack, makes no difference: the offence is still armed robbery. If someone is injured during a robbery or if there are several burglars, the crime will be “armed” robbery and the offender faces up to 20 years in prison.
Criminal offences of fraud are serious and can lead to a heavy fine or imprisonment. These offences include breach of trust, fraudulent theft by a company’s directors or employees, identity theft, forgery of documents and more. In the field of trading on the stock exchange, excessive risk-taking is also considered fraud.
- Money laundering
Hiding the source, destination and identity of money that is transferred from one place to another is called money laundering. This money is considered ‘black’ money. It is not registered anywhere and therefore no tax is paid on it, which is considered a criminal offence. Usually black money is passed through an intermediary, someone who handles large sums of money on a daily basis, so that the “black” money can be deposited in his bank unnoticed. The intermediary will then send the ‘black’ money by bank transfer or cheque to its owner.
- Financial Crimes
The penalty for tax offences, money laundering, share price manipulation and other financial crimes depends on the gravity of the offence, the amount of money and the personal circumstances of the defendant. Punishments range from financial penalties to imprisonment.
- Bribery & Corruption
When someone secretly pays a public figure in order to gain an advantage from his influential role, it is called bribery, which is a criminal offence. For example, someone who wants to work at the town hall covertly gives the mayor a sum of money (a bribe) so that the mayor will ensure he gets the job. In bribery both sides are guilty of corruption: one party offers the bribe and the other party accepts it. The bribe may be money or something else of value, such as property, jewellery, or an important position, or it could even be in the form of sexual favours.
- Illegal Gambling
Although most people consider gambling, whether in a casino, betting on sports results or otherwise, to be a hobby, in Israel there are only two bodies with state authorised gambling licences: The Toto and the lottery. Both advertise aggressively in order to attract potential gamblers. Casinos are currently illegal in this country, but a recent proposal to create a casino in Eilat may see a change the law. The winnings in Toto and the lottery are quite small because of the heavy taxes that the winner is required to pay. This greatly reduces the motivation to gamble.
- Traffic offences (Transport)
Traffic laws apply to all forms of transportation, including buses, motorcycles, lorries, and trains. The penalties for these offences will depend on the severity of the offence, anything from penalty points and fines, or compulsory driving courses, right up to the confiscation of vehicles and revoking of the offender’s licence. In addition to the type and severity of the offence, the judges will also take into account the driving history of the offender, for instance the number of penalty points he has received for traffic violations prior to the offence in question.
- Juvenile delinquency
When a legal “minor” commits an offence, we’re talking about “juvenile delinquency”. Up to the age of 18 a person is considered to be a minor and is treated differently to adult offenders by the law. Juvenile delinquency has increased in recent years and there are many reasons for this. One explanation is the increased use of mobile phones by children and teenagers, as a result of which parents can no longer keep an eye on the company their children are keeping. The same argument applies to home computer use. When an offence is committed by a minor, the educational and parental system of the minor comes into question, but it important to know that from the age of 12 a minor becomes legally and criminally responsible for his/her actions.
- Domestic violence
Domestic violence is violence between a couple, towards the husband, wife, children or older members of the family. It comes in many different forms and exists across all ethnic groups and social classes. The violence may be sexual, physical, emotional or economic. Domestic violence can happen not only among married couples but also in families where the couple does not live together. It is important to remember that anyone who is aware of domestic violence is legally obliged to inform the authorities. A person who is aware of a situation of domestic violence but fails to report it could face up to two years imprisonment.
- Security Offences
Theses are offences against the State, and include treason, rebellion, terrorism, espionage, exposing state secrets and more. Anything that harms our country, its secrets of state, its foreign relations, or any action which endangers the existence of the State or puts the State at risk are criminal offences against State security and are punishable with long prison terms, and may even carry the death penalty.
- Growing or manufacturing drugs
It is prohibited by law to grow, develop or produce drugs, whether for personal use or for sale, and any person violating this law faces up to 20 years imprisonment. In Israel it is prohibited to use drugs unless they are prescribed medically. Anyone using drugs faces up to three years imprisonment.
- Drug possession
Drug possession, whether for personal use or for sale is considered a criminal offence. The seriousness of the offence depends on the quantity of drugs found in the suspect’s possession. For instance, under 15 grams of grass, hashish or marijuana, less than 0.3 grams of heroin or cocaine, and up to 3 tablets of Ecstasy or LSD are considered to be “personal consumption” quantities . The punishment will also depend on whether the suspect has been previously convicted of drug related offences.
- Crowding and rioting offences
It may seem strange for crowding to be considered a criminal offence, but if someone is injured or dies as a result of crowding you can see why there is the need for such a law (take the example of a sick person trying to get to the hospital, blocked by a crowd, who is thus prevented from obtaining medical treatment and subsequently dies). In the current political climate, crowds might gather anytime or anywhere and can often turn into riots due to the circumstances. The punishment for crowding and rioting is up to 2 years imprisonment.
- Kidnapping and abduction
There are several types of illegal abduction: illegal abduction to another country, snatching someone from police custody, forced detention, kidnapping for extortion or murder, for sexual purposes, for forced labor and more. The crime of kidnapping can lead to a prison term of up to 10 years.
- The military court
A military court, which is administered by military judicial officers, is only involved with offences committed by the army or by someone serving in the armed forces, or by a resident living under military rule or occupation. There are two types of military court, the first is the court martial for serious criminal offences, and the second is the military court for disciplinary offences.
- Cybercrimes (Computers and Internet)
Cybercrime is a new branch of the law and refers to crimes committed by means of computers or “against” computers. As computing technology increases, so does the range of associated criminal offences, such as theft from computers, computer hacking, the creation and distribution of viruses, disseminating misinformation, spreading hatred, terrorism, paedophilia, gambling, money laundering and more. The penalties depend on the seriousness of the crime.