Concept of Crime

Since the dawn of human civilization, crime has been a baffling problem. There is hardly any society which is without the problem of crime Violation of norms and rules do occur in a society. Durkheim in his book Crime as a Natural Phenomenon said : “A society composed of persons with angelic qualities would not be free from violations of the norms of that society.”

The concept of crime is essentially concerned with the social order. A sense of mutual respect and trust for the rights of others regulates the conduct of the members of society inter se. Although most people believe in peace and harmony, yet there are a few who deviate from this normal behavioural pattern. This imposes an obligation on the State to maintain normalcy in society, which it performs through the instrumentality of law.

Definition of Crime

 It is difficult to give a precise definition of ‘crime’. Most of the writers, however, generally agree that every criminal act involves some sort of law-violation.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of defintion of crime: legal and sociological. The legal definition is more acceptable, because of its elaborate and specific nature and element of certainty.

(A)     Legal definitions: Jones defines crime as a legal wrong the remedy for which is punishment of the offender at the instance of the State.

According to Blackstone, a crime is an act committed or omitted, in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it.

Halsbury defines crime as an unlawful act which is an offence against the public and the perpetrator of that act is liable to legal punishment.

Tappan has defined the crime in his book Crime. Justice and Correction as ‘an intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law, committed without defence or justification. and sanctioned by the law as felony or misdemeanor’.

Tappan’s definition seems to be narrow as it ignores socio-economic crimes where the intention to commit an offence is of different nature and extent than the intention while committing traditional crimes like murder, theft. etc. There are certain acts in respect of which their moral culpability is a matter of controversy e.g. tax-avoidance. Further, there are certain acts which could be made punishable on the basis of knowledge or negligence i.e. strict liability (e.g. in case of food adulteration) It is, therefore, not essential that an act or omission should be intentional in all forms of crime.

Further, there is no question of violating the criminal law if some defence or justification is available for a particular act or omission in certain circumstances. So, his legal definition would be specific if he only had said that crime is ‘an act or omission in violation of criminal law’.

(B) Sociological definitions: The Italian criminologist Garofalo rejected the juridical concept of crime and preferred sociological definition of crime. His theory of natural crime postulates that crime is an ‘act which offend the basic moral sentiments of pity (revulsion against the voluntary infliction of suffering on others) and probity (respect for property, rights of others)

Sutherland characterises crime as a symptom of social disorganization. Further, crime is an index of social pathology. Crime has the function of indicating limits of social control over individual behaviour.

Stephen has defined crime as an act which is both forbidden by law and revolting to the moral sentiments of the society.

According to another school of thought, crime is an act which a particular social group regards as sufficiently harmful to its fundamental interests, to justify formal reaction (i.e. legal action) to restrain the violator. The tendency of modern sociological criminologists is to treat crime as a social phenomenon which receives disapproval of the society.

Conclusions: The legal definition of crime has been criticised because of its relativity and variable content (i.e. different in different places and at different times). The categories set up by it are unscientific,

However, the advocates of legalistic approach criticizes the sociological definition because of its inaccuracy and impermanent character because social norms and values are relative and changes with time.’

The legal definition appears to be more correct because of its elaborate and specific nature and element of certainty. Criminal law not only gives precise definition of forbidden acts that constitute crime, but also has the machinery and procedure to determine violators, and therefore able to identify offenders. For example, convicted criminals represent the closest possible. approximation to those who have in fact violated law, even if this group may not be fully representative of all those who have committed crime. This is not possible in cases where certain conduct branded as criminal in social terms. Moreover, “the criminal law establishes substantive norms of behaviour, and more clear-cut, specific and detailed standard than the norms in any other category of social controls.

However, the understanding of crime must be based on understanding human behaviour, of development, of society and of a criminal justice system that provides control of’ deviant’ behaviour (sociological perspective).

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