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Legal Topics

Penal action — Legal glossary

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Definition, related terms, and research resources for legal professionals

Legal termscriminal law penal action


Penal action, also known as criminal action or legal action, refers to the legal proceedings initiated against individuals accused of committing a crime. It is a criminal prosecution or “civil proceeding in which either the state or a common informer sues to recover a penalty from a defendant who has violated a statute.” (Black’s Law Dictionary®: Eleventh Edition, 39)

It encompasses the entire process for different types of criminal law from investigation to arrest, trial, and potential sentencing. The objective of penal action as per criminal procedure is to maintain law and order, protect society, and ensure that justice is served.

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Types of penal action


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Purpose of penal action

The primary purpose of penal action is to maintain law and order within society. By holding individuals accountable for their actions, penal action serves as a deterrent to potential offenders. It also seeks to protect the rights of victims and ensure their justice is obtained. Additionally, penal action aims to rehabilitate offenders by providing them with opportunities for reform and reintegration into society. Through various programs, such as counseling, education, and vocational training, individuals can work towards positive change and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Elements of penal action

Penal action comprises several essential elements that form the foundation of the criminal justice system. These elements include:

  1. Investigation: The process of gathering evidence and information to establish the facts surrounding the alleged crime.
  2. Arrest: The apprehension of the accused individual based on the evidence collected during the investigation.
  3. Trial: The legal proceeding where the accused is presented before a court of law and given an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.
  4. Sentencing: If found guilty, the accused may face various types of penalties, such as imprisonment, fines, probation, or community service.
  5. Appeal: The right to challenge a conviction or sentence in a higher court if the accused believes there were errors or misconduct during the trial.

Types of penal action

Criminal law statutes provide penal action ranging from fines to imprisonment. It can also include other legal remedies such as seizure of property, forfeiture of assets, and the imposition of community service or probation. Depending on the severity of the offense, some penal actions may also include the revocation of certain rights, such as the right to vote or the right to bear arms.

Examples of penal action

Fines — Fines are the most common type of penal action. They are imposed as a punishment for criminal offenses and typically require the offender to pay a certain amount of money to the court or government.

Imprisonment — Imprisonment is a more severe form of penal action, and involves the incarceration of an individual for a certain period of time.

Seizure of property — In some cases, an offender’s property may be seized by the state as a form of punishment. This can include real estate, vehicles, and other personal assets.

Forfeiture of assets — An offender may also be required to forfeit some of their assets to the state as a penalty for their crime. This could include money, jewelry, or other valuables.

Community service — Community service is a form of penal action that may be imposed as a form of punishment for certain criminal offenses. It typically involves the offender performing tasks such as cleaning up public areas, working in soup kitchens, or providing other services to the community.

Probation — Probation is a form of penal action in which an offender is supervised by a probation officer for a period of time. During this time, the offender is required to comply with certain conditions, such as abstaining from drugs or alcohol, attending counseling sessions, or performing community service.


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Summary and other resources

  • Penal action, or legal action, refers to legal proceedings against individuals accused of a crime.
  • The purpose of penal action is to maintain law and order, protect society, and ensure justice.
  • Penal action involves investigation, arrest, trial, sentencing, and appeal.
  • Penal action can include fines, imprisonment, property seizure, asset forfeiture, community service, and probation.
  • Penal action aims to deter crime, protect victims, rehabilitate offenders, and ensure public safety.


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Black’s Law Dictionary®

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