Crime and punishment are two concepts that are vital to the harmony and peaceful co-existence of a state. The goal of every society is that every inhabitant should pursue his interest and aspirations without fear or hindrance from another co-inhabitant. In securing this, every community of man has always put in place rules and norms that regulate the interaction of the inhabitants.
Certain conducts in the society that threatens the societal goals are collectively frowned at. Such actions are usually collectively known by the people of every society. In other to discourage people from engaging in such acts, certain specified punishments are attached to such conducts.
In this paper, I shall consider the concept of crime and punishment from varieties of background. An attempt shall be made to examine the historical perspective of crimes, various categories and elements of crimes and of course theoretical basis of punishment and punishment as enshrined under Nigerian laws shall be highlighted.
THE DEFINITION OF CRIME
The word crime has its origin in the latin word crimen meaning “accusation”, “indictment”, “charge” or “fault”. What is a crime is a very difficult question to proffer an answer. The word ‘crime’ like many other concepts has defied an acceptable and all encompassing definition. The reason is not farfetched. The word crime has variety of meanings depending from the angle it is being approached. What a crime is to a sociologist may not necessary accord with a lawyer’s view of crime. Yet, theologians may not agree with both of them. Hence, it would be apt to consider what crime means to different classes of people.
Acts that constitute a crime in one society may not be a crime in another society. Even in the same society, an act that constitutes a crime at particular time may be dropped at another point in time. What is a crime to a person might not constitute a crime if committed by another person. The instances are endless.
According to the sociologists, crime is seen as a behaviour that violates the norms of the society. It is anti-social behaviour. A norm is any standard or rule regarding what human beings should or should not think, say or do, under given circumstances. The foremost sociologist Emile Durkheim has defined crime as a social product, determined by social conditions, capable of being controlled only in social terms. Hence, the sociologists are more concerned with the totality of conducts that offends the collective conscience of the society.
This approach to the study of crime is very useful as it takes into account all anti-social behaviours as crime. In other words, it is a holistic approach towards the study of crime and criminalization of conducts. Perhaps, the society would better achieve its aim of a balanced and just society where the totality of anti-social behaviours is taken care of.
The understanding of crime to lawyers and jurists is that crime is a violation of any conduct that has been criminalise by statute and which could earn the culprit a punishment. According to Tappan ‘crime is an intentional act in violation of the criminal law (Statutory and case law), committed without defence or excuse, and penalized by the state as a felony or misdemeanour’. Glanville Williams using crime interchangeably with offence defined it as “a legal wrong that can be followed by criminal proceedings which may result in punishment’ It is in this sense that lawyers approach the concept of crime.
To the theologians, a crime which is also regarded as sin is any act against the commandment of God. It could be seen in some respect as a hybrid of both the sociologist and legal conception of crime. Some anti-social behaviour may well constitute sin or crime in the theological sense like murder, rape, and stealing to mention but few. Again, some sins are so called because the holy books have made them to be so thereby sharing some boundaries with the legal conception of...