Distinction between Deviance, Crime and Sin

In a society people have norms, beliefs, customs and traditions which are implicitly accepted by its members as conducive to their well-being and healthy all-round development. Infringement of these cherished norms and customs is condemned as anti-social. Thus many a writer has. defined the term ‘crime’ as anti-social, immoral or sinful, deviant behaviour.

Deviance v Crime

A deviant behaviour is one that violates normative rules, understandings or expectations of a social system. In simple terms, deviance is the failure to obey group rules, that is why a deviant is considered an “outsider”. However, unlike a criminal, a deviant may not cause a direct or indirect injury to others, and may not act in breach of law, and his act may not be punishable by the State.

For example, we think of the person who commits a traffic violation or gets a little too drunk at a party as being, after all, not very different from the rest of us and treat his infraction tolerantly. But we regard the thief as less like us and punish him severely. Crimes such as murder, rape or treason lead us to view the violator as a true outsider. This would imply that all deviant behaviours are not crimes. but all crimes are deviant behaviour.

For example, alcoholism, beggary, etc., are deviant behaviours but not necessarily crimes. Homo-sexuality is a deviant behaviour but not a crime in many countries (however in India it is a crime).

It is to be noted that deviance and crime, both are relative terms. Thus, what may be considered as a deviant behaviour or crime by one group (or country), may not be considered so by another group or country.

Sin v. Crime

Though there is some kind of resemblance between sin and crime, the two radically differ in their content, scope and consequences.

The concept of sin emanates from religion, whereas crime is a legal proposition. Sin results in violation of rules of religion while crime involves breach of law. A sinner is punished by God, but a criminal is punished by the State. There is no direct injury or harm in case of a sin but a crime necessarily involves some kind of direct injury. The remedy for a sin is penance whereas a person who commits a crime is subjected to a term of sentence by the court.

A sin is necessarily an immoral behaviour, but a crime is not. For example, traditional crimes like murder, theft, rape etc., have element of immorality (mala in se), but various offences (e.g. ‘white-collar crimes’) have no immorality in traditional sense (mala in prohibition). Also, there are many acts which are not crime despite element of immorality e.g. adultery is not an offence in England. Thus, what conduct should be regarded as criminal depends not only on the question of whether conduct is moral or immoral, but also on the consideration of possibility of its implementation through legal machinery. Thus, criminal law deals only with public morality and not private morality .. to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour.

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