Civics Today Citizenship, Economics, & You
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
Laws are sets of rules that allow people to live peacefully in society. To be fully effective, laws must be fair and must treat all people equally. The first known system of written law was the Code of Hammurabi. Another set of early laws is the Ten Commandments found in the Bible. Under the Roman Empire, Roman law was spread throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe. The French emperor Napoleon updated the code and spread it throughout Europe. The most important source of American laws is English law. Common law and the system of precedents are important parts of our legal system today.
Two types of law affect Americans directly—criminal law and civil law. Criminal laws seek to prevent people from deliberately or recklessly harming each other or each other's property. Civil cases involve disputes between people or groups of people in which no criminal laws have been broken. Those who have been accused of crimes are protected by the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments all contain important rights for the accused.