Italian criminal law is based on the Penal Code (codice penale) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (codice di procedura penale). The Criminal Code is divided into a general and a specific part. The general part of the Penal Code defines and regulates the principles of criminal law such as personal responsibility, reservation of rights, non-retroactivity of laws introducing new offences or increasing the sentence, and the elements of the offence such as act, intent and causal link. The general part of the Penal Code also contains provisions which indirectly affect the Code of Criminal Procedure, such as the regulation of the request for a penalty, cases of extinction of offences and non-punishment of offences for minor offences. The special part of criminal law, on the other hand, deals with the individual offences, which in turn are divided into crimes (delitti) and misdemeanours (contravvenzioni). A further division concerns the respective legal property, the protection of which the legislator has reinforced with criminal sanctions, such as the rights of the person, property or public administration.
The Code of Criminal Procedure, on the other hand, regulates the criminal proceedings which have as their goal the detection of criminal offences. Italian criminal procedure is characterised by the dispute between the prosecution and the defence. Although Italian criminal procedure is divided into three phases (investigation, pre-trial and trial), there are also various alternative procedures which, in most cases, have a decisive influence on the defence strategy for the individual case. Apart from the typical end of the trial by acquittal or conviction of the accused, the different procedural alternatives allow different outcomes such as suspension of the criminal proceedings for a probationary period or exemption from punishment for minor offences. Italian penal law is also characterised by alternative procedures that allow the convicted person to serve his sentence outside the prison walls (assignment to social services, house arrest, etc.). Although this is in line with the development of the constitutional requirement to reintegrate the offender into society, in practice it serves to reduce the burden on overcrowded prisons.