Define Crime

Topics: Criminology, Sociology, Morality Pages: 2 (591 words) Published: May 11, 2013
Defining Crime

Crime Is usually defined as whether the law has been broken which may lead to a punishment by the legal system however crime is hard to define because if the law or penal system did not exist than neither would the labelling of a behaviour or act as criminal or not.

The legal system defines acts as criminal if a person has broken the law either by “actus reus” (guilty act), when a criminal act has occurred or “mens rea” (guilty mind) when a person had the intention of carrying out a criminal act even if the criminal thought was not acted upon (Edward Coke). Crime is also explained as a violation of moral codes and social harm as behaviour and actions that goes against norms and cultural standards in society but may not be breaking the law. Peoples opinions on the deviance of a crime differs (Howard, 1963) and that change in social and environmental conditions changes peoples opinions on what they define as deviant (Erikson, 1966) however murder, rape and theft are disapproved by the majority of people (Lemart, 1972). The normative definition of crime is society’s definition of crime and what society thinks crime is, based on what people perceive to be morally right and wrong.

Each individuals opinion of crime differs and location, psychological and economic conditions can influence this. One person may think abortion is acceptable whereas another may think that it is murder and a criminal act although it may not be illegal. Punishment of a crime varies depending on the nature of the crime committed where there will be a maximum and minimum sentence passed or in lighter cases a fine, community service or ban. Crime as social harm is defined as behaviour that causes some type of harm (Shoemaker, 2000), however peoples opinions of the seriousness of crimes differentiate. Crime is often explained by three theories which are biological, sociological and psychological such as Lombroso and Sheldon’s biological theory that a criminal can be...

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Psychology Teaching Resources. 2012. Aldon Sammons [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 October 2012].
Mensrea. 2012 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 28 October 2012].
Borooah, V.,K & Carcah C.A.(1997). Crime and Fear: Evidence from Australia British Journal Of Criminology, 37(4),635-657
Howard S. Becker. (1963) Outsiders: Study into the sociology of deviance. The Free Press.
Muncie, J and McLaughlin, E. (2001) The Problem of Crime, London: Sage.
Wayward Puritans (1966), Kai Erikson
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