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Penal Code Defined

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The penal code is a group of laws pertaining to various crimes and criminal offenses as well as the punishments for committing those crimes. There are penal codes for all levels of jurisdictions, from the federal penal code and down. Each state has its own penal code, and individual cities do as well. The U.S. military penal code is known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary law enforcement agency of the United States government, however there are nearly three dozen federal agencies with federal law enforcement responsibilities. There are more than 200 different categories in the federal penal code, but the ones the FBI deals with most frequently involve counter-terrorism efforts, organized crime and drug trafficking, civil rights matters, foreign counter-intelligence and financial crimes. Federal crimes only account for about three percent of all crimes committed annually.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice applies to all members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, the Public Health Services Commissioned Corps, as well as all reserve units. The UCMJ is in effect to help maintain discipline and good order throughout the military.

State penal codes cover everything from the most severe felonies down to simple misdemeanors. State felonies include murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery and other serious crimes. These infractions are all punishable by state prison sentences ranging from two years to life. In some cases, the penal code allows for death as an acceptable punishment. Misdemeanors, such as petty theft, driving while intoxicated and possession of drug paraphernalia, can be punished by up to one year in a county jail but are usually punished with fines, probation and community service.

City penal codes deal with minor infractions, such as traffic violations. These are punished with fines. Other infractions that cities deal with include noise violations, city code violations, fire code violations and building code violations. City code violations include having excessively tall grass in a lawn or storing a motor home or RV for temporary living purposes. Fire code violations include inaccessible exits or exceeding the maximum building capacity. Failing to make a building accessible for wheelchairs is an example of a building code violation.

The penal codes at every level tend to be long and complex. If you find yourself in violation of any penal code, be it federal, state or city, consulting an attorney to help you sort through everything is a wise decision.

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