From time immemorial, crime has been a subject of discussion due to its detrimental effects on any society. Different definitions have been advanced during its study and analysis. It is commonly defined as the act of going against or breaking a set of rules, laws, or regulations meant to guide the general behavior of human beings in any society. Acts of crime can result in the person who has committed them being warned, rehabilitated, or acquitted.
Arguments about the nature of crime have raged for a longer time, but scholarly works have established that, though all crimes are a violation of the law, not all violations are acts of crime. In modern societies, crime is usually seen as an offence against the state or the general public. This differentiates it from torts, which are generally regarded as wrongs done against private individuals. Within the social and legal framework, crime is considered a set of facts or assumptions with clearly defined causes, consequences, and objectives. Crimes form a part of the environment in which they are committed. In addition, crimes can be regarded as either illegal, if they cause injuries; or perfectly legal, in the cases where the cause of action was determined or influenced by the actions of others. Crimes can sometimes be in the form of acts of self-defense or be determined by actions of other people.
Over the years, informal groupings, relations, and sanctions have been meted on individuals who have committed wrongdoings or failed to develop and maintain a system of social order in the society. Regulating authorities, governments, and states have been forced to interject and impose strict systems of order to facilitate social controls in life. Institutions and legal frameworks have been established to enforce the social order. People are forced to adhere to these restraints; and the governing bodies employ various means to encourage them to continue with their adherence to these orders and discourage any form of deviations. The authorities, for that reason, have laid down dos and don’ts that are accompanied by well-stipulated punishments for those persons who violate them. Punishments may include excommunication, confinement, physical punishment, or the death penalty. Either way, a crime can only be done by human beings, not animals.
The process of criminalizing an act is undertaken by well-established institutions within our societies. It is usually a procedure meant to reduce harm meted on others, using threats of punishments to deter people from undertaking any unacceptable activity. Establishments such as governments have been actively involved in the process of criminalizing acts, since they are convinced that the resultant effects of criminalizing of an act are by far outweighed by the results of not criminalizing of the same act. As a result, any individual who engages in any kind of wrongdoing has to pay. Extremist advocates argue that criminalizing of an act is a government’s way of meting revenge on the perceived perpetrators. The states have been actively involved in this process, because the victims of criminal activities do not have the capacity to carry out adequate investigations on their own, as it involves the usage of large amount of resources, which are only at the disposal of the government. Most victims might also be interested in compensation only, and not in stopping or mitigating the offence experienced by them, thus eliminating the chances of such future acts to be deterred. Victims may also die or be incapacitated and not be able to carry out with the process of prosecution. In most cases, it has been found that they do lack the necessary structures and skills in collection of fees and charges.
Several scholarly works have been advanced in an attempt to study crime. The natural law theory was used to justify the government’s use of force to compel people to adhere to the set rules and regulations. It states that the nature of human beings should reflect the essential moral values in the society. Thomas Aquinas regarded people to be rational in their behavior. He therefore concluded that they should behave in a morally upright manner that reflected the norms of any society. John Austin, on the other hand, used the utilitarianism theory in his argument that people are naturally calculative and able to make fair judgments. He therefore concluded that rules should not exist. People should be set free to decide on their course of action based on their desires and judgments of the prevailing situation. The use of the state to force people to observe rules and regulations was found to lack moral foundation by some scholars, as the norms that are observed by people and greatly influenced their behavior have changed with time. They have therefore found it absurd to enforce old laws that were repugnant to the societal changes.
There are different factors that determine how acts of crime are categorized. The classification can be based on factors like type of crime, applicable penalty, common laws used in the area of jurisdiction, the mode of trial used to pass judgment on the perceived criminals, and the origin of the perceived crime. Based on the type of crime, they are generally classified as offences against people, violent offenses, sexual offences and acts, and property offences in the form of property damage or loss. Furthermore, there are other forms of classifications based on the type of the crime committed, such as forgery, impersonation, and cheating.
Based on the penalties meted on the perceived perpetrators, crimes can generally be classified as fines, which are the least serious crimes, and capital offences, which are considered crimes of serious nature. Based on the common law, as applied in the region of jurisdiction, crime is broadly categorized on the basis of its seriousness. Such classification includes a misdemeanor, which is a less serious crime, as well as a felony and a treason, which are of a more serious nature that can merit the death penalty as a punishment. In addition, the mode of trial that is used to pass judgment on a suspected offender is also used to classify crimes. They can be classified as indictable offences, indictable only offences, and hybrid offences, which can take either of the first two forms depending on the outcome of judgment. The origin of crime can also be used to classify crimes. This method of classification is widespread in countries that employ the common laws of England. They can be categorized as common law offences and statutory offences. In the US, however, they are classified as federal crimes.
There are a number of sociological perspectives that seek to expound on many scholarly works carried out on crime. They tend to give an independent analysis of the acts considered criminal and try to unearth the different dimensions that can be used to determine an act of criminal nature. These perspectives can be classified as the functionalist perspective, the sub-culture analysis perspective, and the labeling perspective.
The functionalist perspective holds that crime should be analyzed by looking at a larger society and not the individual alone. It argues that the structure of any society explains the causes of crime. To functionalists, crime is a function in the society and, without it, we would not need police officers, prisons, and the punishment itself. Though the functionalists feel strong about the societal shared values and the need to keep the society together, they argue that people join efforts to enhance shared values by stopping crime. The subculture uses divine beliefs to argue about crime. It classifies people into subgroups and argues that the different subgroups have distinctive norms and beliefs. Some groups have norms and beliefs that reward crime, while others denounce it. Those who argue from the labeling perspective believe that an act becomes a crime only when people label it so. It states that the social groups in any society regard something as crime when certain rules are broken. It also argues that crime is never what we do, but what implications the violation of rules carries for the individual.
In conclusion, crime is a societal problem influenced mainly by the attitudes developed by individuals and their resultant behavior. To mitigate crime, societies have developed and maintained a rigid set of rules that guide every individual’s behavior in the larger society and, if these rules are broken, some penalties will follow.
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