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What Is A Crime & Who Is A Criminal?

crime scene
The legal definition of a crime is an action or a course of conduct that violates the law. “An intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law committed without defence or justification and sanctioned by the state for punishment as a felony or a misdemeanour,” according to Paul Tappan (1960), is what is meant by crime. Six elements are important in this definition:
1. A person cannot be punished for thoughts or words, as they are not considered acts. However, the omission of a legal duty is also a crime. For example, a host cannot be convicted for the omission of duty if they failed to call a doctor for a visitor’s heart attack, as moral duty is not sufficient for prosecution. Similarly, a creche owner can be convicted for the omission of their legal duty to save a child’s life if they failed to do so.
2. The act must be voluntary and committed when the actor has control over their actions. For example, a dog owner chained to a neighbour’s child can be prosecuted if the dog bites the child, but not if the dog is known to bite people.
3. A person’s intentional act, whether general or specific, is crucial in committing a crime. They must know their actions could cause injury or death, even if they have no specific intent to kill.
4. The act must violate criminal law, separate from non-criminal or civil and administrative laws, to allow the state to take action against the accused. Non-criminal laws regulate individual and organizational rights, while criminal wrongs involve the state taking action against the wrong-doer. Some acts may be both criminal and non-criminal, requiring both criminal and non-criminal laws for prosecution.
5. Acts must be committed without defence or justification, and self-defence or insanity are usually not crimes, even if they cause harm.
6. The state should sanction acts as felonies or misdemeanours, punishing socially harmful acts only. A child of four cannot be convicted of murder, as the state doesn’t provide a penalty for a child of this age, even if it is a socially negative action.
According to Clinard & Quinney, crime can be classified into six types, as follows – • Violent personal crime • Occasional property crime • Occupational crime • Political crime • Public order crime • Conventional crime


Legally, a person who violates the law and is found guilty by a court is considered a criminal. It is technically incorrect to refer to someone who has not been found guilty of a crime as a criminal if they have been detained by the police but released by the court. However, the law has never made it clear if a person’s criminal status terminates after the sentence imposed on him is complete, i.e., when the status starts and when it ends. Thus, when society refuses to remove the stigma of being a criminal, a severe issue arises. A person who has been classified as a criminal in the past is frequently not allowed to forget that status.
Ruth Cavan has classified criminals into six types, as follows –
1. Criminals who live in a non-criminal world, i.e., • Casual (one who violates minor laws for self-convenience). • Occasional (one who occasionally commits a minor-natured crime). • Episodic (one who commits a serious crime under emotional strain). • White collar (one who commits financial crimes while being in some legitimate business).
2. Professional
3. Organized
4. Habitual
5. Mentally abnormal
6. Non–malicious
However, Cavan’s classifications are not mutually exclusive. A persistent offender or member of organised crime may also be a professional criminal. Similar to this, a criminal who exists in a society free from crime may also be a chronic criminal, a non-malicious criminal, and so forth in many combinations of the categories. In actuality, Cavan’s classification is determined by three factors: the number of crimes committed, the nature of the crimes committed, and the character of the criminals. These requirements are haphazardly combined in different ways. However, grouping offenders into more uniform categories offers a greater understanding of criminal behaviour.

By Debarya Ghosh

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