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What Is Crime? Essay Sample

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What Is Crime? Essay Sample


Crime can be considered as any act that is against the expected norms. Crime is not a new phenomenon to the world although the nature of crime has been changing over the years. Definition of a crime would guarantee a straightforward answer as deviation from the laws but this definition is considered too stringent since it does not include all aspects that may be related to a crime.  This is more of a legal consensus approach to crime. However, any understanding of crime should look beyond the obvious legal definition to include the social norms that may not be codified in the constitutions. However, whether codified or not codified, crime is deviation from what is expected. In the legal perspective, criminal laws contain statutes which define a crime and the accompanying punishment for each crime.  The criminal law defines crimes in different ways depending on its magnitude and at the same time it accords different punishment to crimes on the same range.

For criminal law to find relevance in the society, it must be understood and interpreted in terms of the codified social norms rather than state vs. citizen engagement.  Therefore criminal law should grant every member of the society the freedom to practice their rights but in a manner that practice of individual rights does not interfere with the rights of the other members of the society.  Criminal law is not static but it has to keep changing to adapt to the new developments taking place in the society.  Throughout the years, the American criminal law has undergone several changes in order to adapt the changes taking place in the society. From a draconian law that denied individuals some of their rights, the criminal law has changed over the years to recognize even the rights of individual suspects.  This is a reflection of how the criminal law adapts to new developments taking place in the society. Criminal law is therefore dynamic in nature in order to protect the rights of individuals in the face of changing nature of life in the society.

What Is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is also referred to as penal law.  It can be described as any body of rules used in different jurisdictions with an aim of imposing punishment for failure to comply with what has been expected.  Criminal law usually governs crimes which may be a misdemeanor of a felony (Davenport, 2009).  Criminal law can be distinguished from other body or rules on the bases of its potential consequences or sanctions which are imposed for failure of an individual to abide to the law.   Criminal law mostly defines the crime, then nature of commitment of crime and the consequential sanctions or punishments.  Criminal law can be international or local. International criminal law is administered by the International criminal Court while the local criminal law is administered by the judiciary system in every country. Criminal law varies from country to country depending on the constitutional provision of each country.  One of the important elements of any criminal law is that individuals are considered innocent unless they are taken through due process of law where they are declared guilty beyond any reasonable shadow of doubts.

What is Crime?

Asking what a crime is may warrant a straightforward answer defining crime as any act which is against the law.  This is a strict legal definition which may not consider other dynamics of crime which are not codified in the law (Davenport, 2009).  The prevalence of criminal law in any society is based on the premise that it recognizes a crime as any act which is contrary to the expected social behavior. However, taking a deeper approach to crime and its interpretation in the social process, it is evident that there is more to crime than the mere legal deification. Criminal law is shaped by the practices of the society where it applies but there are some practices in the society which are not captured in the criminal law but which the society defines as crime.

Therefore the normative definition of crime would define it as a deviant behavior which is contrary to the social norms or the expected cultural standards. This definition has a broader perspective in that it will capture the complex realities surrounding social definition of crime in realm of changing social, political and economical conditions in a particular society (Patrick, 1994). This definition also confines a certain crime to a particular society depending on its practices.  For example carryuign unlicensed arm may not be considered a crime but it is a crime in other societies. Therefore any definition of crime should capture the agreed norms of the society and the act of deviation from these norms.

Crimes against the Person: Murder

In the context of criminal law, a crime against the person is considered as a crime that is committed through direct harm or application of force to another individual (Davenport, 2009). A crime against the person is any crime that is directed toward a person and there is a high likelihood of causing harm to that person.  Crime against the person is analyzed in different categories including fatal offence, sexual offence, and non fatal non sexual offences.  There can be further classified into assaults and injuries depending on the degree and the extent of aggravations.  In any criminal law, fatal offences include murder and manslaughter which are likely to attract a capital punishment.

Crimes against the Person: Violence

Crime against the person also include act of violence like assault which does not lead to murder (Davenport, 2009). A violence crime is any crime that is likely to lead to bodily harm to the victim.  Violence against a person can be classified as non-fatal offences like common assault, battery, wounding with intent, poisoning, and many others.   According to criminal law, a violent act occasionally leads to bodily harm and may also inflict body harm. Violent act against the person also include sexual offences since it also leads to both physical and psychological harm.  In committing a violent crime, the offender may threaten the victim or use violence as means to the end. The crime may be committed with or without a weapon.  For example sexual offence may be committed without use of weapon while robbery is committed using a weapon.

Crimes against Property

Crime against property is any kind of crime in which there is no threat or force which is specifically directed towards a person.  Unlike crime against the person where the individual is the potential target, crime against property is targeted towards properties. Crime against property includes a wide range of offenses including burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, arson, and many others (Davenport, 2009).  Burglary can be defined as unlawful entry into a home with an aim of stealing something. The common elementary in burglary include break and enter, in the dwelling hours, in the nighttime, with intention to commit felony or larceny, and others.  Larceny theft is an unlawful taking of other peoples’ property but this does not involve unlawful entry into an individual home.  On the other hand motor vehicle theft is not only limited to theft of motor vehicles alone but others like motor vehicles, snowmobiles, and others.  Arson may not be considered as a theft crime but it is a crime against property in the sense that there is intentional burning of a constructed structure.  Most crimes against property have been motivated by financial gains.

Treason, Terrorism, and Wartime Criminal Justice

Treasons, terrorism and wartime criminal justice constitute a special group of crimes in that they don’t occur on daily bases.  Ideally, these are crimes which are committed against the state and the person (Davenport, 2009). This group of crime is based on the exploitation of individual power over others in the society. Wartime crimes   are committed by those who have wartime power. For example during war, crimes like rapes, extortions, murder, and others may be committed.  Habeas corpus is usual during the wartime but it is mainly administered by military tribunals rather than the normal criminal law. Treason and sedation is a crime which is committed against the state. This is any crime which tries to undermine the legality and authority of the government in power. On the other hand, terrorism is a crime that is committed against the non combatant section of the society which the usual citizens.

Crimes against the State

Crimes against the state are crimes where the main victim is the state (Hitcock, 2003). These are crimes where no individual person who specifically suffers from the crime but rather it is the state which bears the blunt. Crimes against the state include crime like perjury, obstruction of justice, civil disobedience or trespass, contempt of court, bribery, corruption in government organizations, impeachment, and many others (Davenport, 2009).  In these cases, the plaintiff is usually the government while defense constitute suspected individuals.

Social Crimes

Social crimes are victimless crimes where it is the society which suffers the consequences (Hitcock, 2003).  In most social crime, the offender also becomes the victim of the crime while at the same time the society also suffers. Some of the social crimes involve prostitution, fornication or adultery, abortion, sodomy, public indecency, gambling, increased drug use, and many others (Davenport, 2009).  Social crimes are difficult to pursue in court since there is no victim to take the offender to court unless the state decides to prosecute the offender. However, pursuance of such cases is faced with failure to raise evidence against the accused.

Common Law Defenses

Although criminal law is supposed to punish those who deviate from the social norms, it is imperative that an individual undergoes through a dual process of law. Any suspect must undergo through an impartial dual process that will prove their guiltiness or innocence beyond any reasonable shadow of doubts.  The prosecution must use the evidence produced before the court to prove that a suspect really committed the mentioned offence.  All the elements that are related to an offence must be proved beyond any reasonable shadow of doubts (Davenport, 2009).

Common law defenses therefore entails the counter measures that try to show that the prosecution has in deed failed to prove the case using the evidence provided to the required legal standard.  While the prosecution brings a case against the suspect, there are defenses which are open to the suspect which tries to prove the suspect’s innocence.  However, the burden of the putting in place this defense is the responsibility of the accused which depend on the balance of probabilities. Before taken before court of law, the defense can argue against the ability of the individual to stand trial, for example in case of insanity.  Defenses are mostly written into legislations which provide the provision for offence. These are regarded as statutory defenses while common law defenses are usually established with reference to the previous cases. For example necessity, claim of right and self defense are common law defenses.

Constitutional Rights before Arrest

Arrest can be described as the act of depriving individuals their liberty which is carried out to facilitate an investigation or to prevent a crime from taking place. Before being arrested, individual may be exposed to unreasonable searches. The Fourth Amendment prevents individuals against such unwarranted searches and double jeopardy. Once arrested the individual is held in a police station to curtail their freedom of movement (Davenport, 2009).

The principle of criminal law is that individuals should not be held accountable for their crime unless they are taken through a dual process of law and proved guilty beyond any reasonable shadow of doubts.  This means that a suspect should be considered innocent until proved guilty. Before the police arrest and suspect, they must make clear the purpose for the arrest.  However, the police are not required to tell you that reason for the arrest but they have to produce the warrant of arrest and clearly identify who they are. When arrested, individuals have the right to remain silent while in police custody. Upon arrest, the suspect must be presented before a court of law within the time stipulated by the constitution. This varies from country to country from 24 hours to 72 hours upon arrest.  If the individual is not presented before a magistrate, the only option will be to release them. It is only when one is brought before a magistrate that the charges are clearly read against the suspect. However individuals have the right for reasonable bail depending on the nature and extent of crime.

Constitutional Rights after Arrest

After being arrested by the police, individuals have rights that hare to be observed until they are taken before a jury.  As we have highlighted earlier, there is limited time upon which an individual should be held in a police station after which one should be presented before a jury or be released. In most cases, an individual should not be held for more than 24 hours before presented in court of law.  After one is arrested, they have the freedom to consult with a solicitor free of charge. Upon arrest, the next of kin should also be informed of the arrest and the particular location that an individual has been detained.

Depending on the information that the police will solicit from the suspect, they will decide whether to proceed with charges or release the suspect.  If the police decide to proceed with the charges, the suspect has the right to be given a bail. Individual have the right to grand jury and indictment and also the right against self-incrimination. After arrest, individual have a right in post arrest interrogation and they should be allowed to wait for their solicitors to get legal advice since anything said can be used as evidence in a court of law (Davenport, 2009). In criminal cases, the individual has the right to counsel and if the poor cannot afford a private counsel, the state should provide one. When arraigned in court and the charges are read, the suspects have the right of plea bargaining where they can plead guilty or innocent. In production of evidence the individual has the right o compel the production of physical evidence including DNA tests. According to the 6th Amendment, individuals have the right to speedy trial.

The Constitutional Right to Trial by Jury

The right to trial by Jury was as a result of the 5th and 6th amendment in United States constitution (FindLaw, 2009).  Under this amendment, individuals have the right to be tried by an impartial jury to raise their defense against accusation. The process of constituting a jury, otherwise referred as voire deire or speak the truth,  involves questioning by attorneys  to establish the  background, experience, and opinion regarding that case to determine whether the jurors can weight the evidence presented in  a fair and objective manner (Keeler, 1999).    In the prosecution, the jury must try individual behind any reasonable shadow of doubts.  This is meant to ensure that the suspect undergoes through a fair trial and the verdict is delivered beyond any reasonable doubts (Davenport, 2009).

Constitutional Rights Post-conviction

Criminal law is meant to prove individuals guilty or innocent. Individual rights post convictions are protected under the 8th Amendment which protects individual from excessive bail, or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment (FindLaw, 2009). If the individual is found guilty, they are handed a sentence or any other form of punishment (Davenport, 2009).  Punishment is a compensation for the crime committed with an aim of deterring the individual and others from committing such crimes. When convicted, individuals should serve only the punishment hand by the judges. Convicts have their own rights and should therefore not be exposed to cruel and unusual punishments.  Depending on the nature of crime, individuals can be sentenced for community service, life imprisonment or death sentence. Capital offences like murder are usually punishable by death.


Criminal law is dynamic in nature in order to protect the rights of individuals in the face of changing nature of life in the society. While a crime is considered as deviation from the agreed norms, criminal law process ensures that individuals are taken through a dual process of law to ensure that the verdict delivered is fair and impartial.  There have been various constitutional amendments to grant individual rights throughout the process of trail. The amendments in the United States constitution have been meant to ensure the impartiality of the criminal law in the country and to protect individual citizens from the excesses of criminal justice system.


Davenport, A. U. (2009). Basic criminal law: The constitution, procedure, and crimes. Prentice Hall

FindLaw, (2009). U.S constitutional Amendments. Retrieved 17th March 2009 from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendments.html

Hitcock, J. (2003). Social crimes. Miramax Publishers

Keeler, B. (1999). Court of the Uninformed: Searching for Unbiased Jures. The Jury System, 1999

Patrick, J. (1994). Incorporation Doctrine. The Young Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States

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