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The Concept Of Crime

Crime is a Deceiving Concept:

There are no easy explanations for the phenomena collectively called crime. Crime is deceiving concept because it covers an enormous range of human behaviour. Crime may be associated in the public mind with pick-pocketing, robberies, housebreakings, and riots, but crime is also a businessman placing bribe to win a city contract. It is also syndicate-controlled loan shark taking over a business from a businessman who couldn‘t meet the exorbitant repayment schedule. It is quiet a student suddenly a rifle to the top of a university tower and begins shooting at those below. Crime is often mistakenly thought of as the vice of the few. It is not. It is everywhere in the society. It is in the bed room of a married couple where wife battering and marital rape happen, among the family members where child abuse and incest happen on the road where eve teasing and cheating happen, at work place where a variety of criminal behaviour is found including abuse of power, corruption and sexual harassment. Therefore, trying to find a single comprehensive answer to ―the crime problem‖ is, like trying to lump together measles and schizophrenia, or lung cancer and a broken leg.

The concept of crime has always been dependent on public opinion.  In fact ―law‖ itself reflects public opinion of the time.  Obviously, every society formulates certain rules to regulate the behavior of its members, the violation of which is forbidden.  However, the problem arises as to what acts should be forbidden, or what acts should be selected for punishment by the society or the state, in other words what acts should be declared as crime.  According to Terence Morris, ―Crime is what society says is crime by establishing that an act is a violation of the criminal law.  Without law there can be no crime at all, although there may be moral indignation which results in law being enacted.‖  Therefore, in order to know the nature and the content of crime we must first of all know what ‗Law‘ is, because the two questions ―Crime‖ and ―Law‖ are so closely related with each other that it is very difficult to understand one without knowing the other.  ―Law‖, is the aggregate of rules set by men politically superior, or sovereign, to men as politically subject.  Law is a command enjoining a course of conduct to be observed by all the members of the society and is backed by a sanction.  The command may be of a sovereign or the command of a political superior to political inferiors, or the command of a legally constituted body or the legislation duly enacted by a legally constituted legislature and addressed to the members of the society in general.  That being the definition of law, disobedience or violation of law may be termed as crime.  But all violations of law are not crimes for an act done in breach of law of contract, personal law or a civil law, are only civil wrongs leading to civil proceedings. Only such violations, which endanger the safety of individual, his liberty and property, are crimes. To common man crimes are those acts which people in society

―consider worthy of serious condemnation‖. Therefore, crime is an act which both forbidden by law and the moral sentiments of the society.

According to Wechsler, ―the purpose of penal law is to express the social condemnation of forbidden conduct, buttressed by sanctions calculated to prevent it‖.  To understand this explanation of Penal law three questions have to be answered:

  1. What kind of conduct is ‗forbidden‘?
  2. What kind of ‗formal social condemnation‘ is considered appropriate to prevent such conduct?
  3. What kinds of ‗sanctions’ are considered as best calculated to prevent officially out lawed conduct?

§Forbidden Conduct:

The concept of forbidden conduct is not a static one; it changes with the change of social norms. The very definition and concept of crime is not only according to the values of a particular group and society, its ideals, faith, religious attitudes, customs, traditions and taboos but also according to the form of government, political and economic structure of society and a number of other factors. For instance, what is a sex crime in India and Eastern countries may be a sweet heart virtue in West and Scandinavian countries.  What is an offence against property in a capitalist culture may be a lawful way of living in a socialist society.  What is permissible in a free and affluent society may be a pernicious vice in a conservative set up. 

The notion about crime also changes with time.  What is an offence today may not be an offence tomorrow and what has not been an offence till yesterday may be declared a crime to day.  For example, polygamy, till the passing of the legislation prohibiting a man from marrying again during the subsistence of the first marriage, marrying more than one wife was no crime. Now it is a punishable crime under the

Criminal Code.  Another example is ―abortion‖.  Forcibly aborting the foetus from the womb of the mother for reasons whatsoever was considered as a great sin against the humanity by all societies till recent past.  Now, with the advancement of medical sciences termination of pregnancy on medical grounds has been legalized and approved by many though not all.

Thus, the concept of crime is ever changing.  What was not crime yesterday may be a crime today and what is a crime today may not remain a crime tomorrow. 

Therefore, social changes affect the criminal law in many ways, such as:

  • Through changes in structure of society, especially in its transition from rural self-contained and relatively sparsely populated to a highly urbanized and industrial pattern.
  • Through changes in the predominant moral and social philosophy.
  • Through developments in science especially in Biology and Medicine.

§Impact of Social Change on the Law of Crimes:

Criminal offences dealing with protection of life and liberty have essentially remained unchanged throughout all ages all over the civilized world.  Only certain crimes against human body like abortion and sexual crimes took new forms due to changes in the attitude of the society towards such conduct.

The crimes against property have undergone a lot of profound changes mainly as a result of transformation of a primitive agricultural society into a commercial or industrial society.  The original crime ‗theft‘ has been widened to include embezzlement, fraudulent conversion that is designated as ―White Collar Crimes‖.  The concept of property has widened including not only physical things but also varieties of other assets i.e. even the things which are not capable of being taken away physically.  These include electricity, shareholders claims, Copyrights, etc., which have become subjects of such crimes.

Crime is A Multidimensional Problem:

Crime is not just the responsibility of the police, the courts, and the prisons. Crime cannot be controlled without the active support of individual private citizens, schools, businesses, and labour unions. This is so because crime has its effects on everyone-not just the criminal and his victim. The fear of crime has affected basic patterns of life of people. People in society are in need of an efficient system that is capable of checking the incidence of crime in the society so that they can feel a sense of safety and security which is essential for a peaceful living. Therefore, the problem of crime has been the concern of more than the law enforcement machinery.

Clearly, then, crime has many dimensions.  To the student of crime, it is a problem of explanation and interpretation.  To the legislator, it is a problem in definition and articulation. To the police, it is a problem in detection and apprehension.  To the judge, it is a problem of due process and of punishment.  But, it is a problem too for more than these.  It is a problem to the person who is engaged in breaking the law; it is a problem to the victim who may be deprived by it of life, possessions and even the pursuit of happiness.  And finally to others it is a threat to tranquility and a disturbance in the social order.  (__Robert Quiney)

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