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In criminal law, punishment is allowed due to the wrongful intent involved in the crime. A punishment such as incarceration seeks to give any victim involved retribution against the offender, deter the criminal from future criminal acts, and hopefully rehabilitate the offender. This is distinguished from civil law, which seeks to compensate the injured party rather than punish the wrongdoer. American law has abandoned the practice of incarcerating people for failure to pay their debts. Criminal statutes, which vary by jurisdiction, describe the type of conduct that has been deemed a crime, the intent required, and in some instances, the proper punishment. In a criminal case, the state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit, while in a civil case, the victim brings the suit.

Justifications for punishment typically take five forms: Retributive, Deterrence, Preventive, Rehabilitative and Restitutionary.

There are limitations on the punishment that may be imposed. The U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment states: ‘Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’ A number of state constitutions also contain the same, or similar, provisions.

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