In reference to law, “penal” is used primarily as a descriptive term relating to punishments or crimes. For example:
- A penal code is a set of statutes that concern criminal offenses (e.g., California Penal Code, Texas Penal Code).
- A penal institution is a place where people who have been convicted of committing criminal offenses are confined.
- A penal action is an action brought for the purpose of imposing a penalty upon a defendant for committing a general wrong to the public.
- Penal liability refers to liability that arises from criminal conduct.
- Penal sanctions refer to punishments imposed on a defendant after a finding of guilt for a criminal act, for example, a fine.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]