A definitive statement as to what constitutes Crime has successfully evaded scholars. But one thing that they all seem to agree on is that “A person is never punished merely for wrong thinking or evil thoughts”.
“Thought Crimes” Orwell style are not offences (Or are they?).
In an age of Mass Surveillance, Kinematic Fingerprinting & Emotion Detection, Mass Data Retention & the Investigatory Powers Act and Alphabet Agency Profiling based on Digital Activities, is that still the case?
Certainly there are many examples of arrest and detention for “thinking” a certain way. But that’s not for here at this time.
Rather than examining the definition of crime in a particular country I think it is more interesting to examine it in the global context. The majority of people tend to assume that Crime and Punishment can be generally assumed to be similar everywhere that they travel to.
As someone with a wanderlust tendency who has “walked the Earth” I can assure you that is not the case.
A Moving Goalpost
The definition of “Crime” in a society has always been influenced by the prevailing norms that exist at any particular time amongst a group of people living together as a community.
Personal feelings, religious beliefs, preferences, tastes, experiences, economic expediency or laws based based on the personal opinions of a “leader” have been the motivations that translated into local laws that criminalised some acts and did not consider other acts as “criminal”.
A Simple Analogy: The Attitude to Cannabis in the USA
In 2017 I guess the simplest analogy would be the different attitude to marijuana in the United States. The use, possession, sale, cultivation, and transportation of cannabis is illegal under federal law in the United States but individual States are permitted to conditionally decriminalise cannabis for recreational or medical use.
Cannabis is listed at a Federal level as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and is classified as a Schedule I drug. The DEA defines this classification as a substance that has a high potential of being abused by its users and has no acceptable medical uses.
So there exists a contradictory attitude of Federal versus certain State laws regarding the exact same matter – in the former it is a “crime”, in the latter it is not – in some States.
The Definition of Crime
“There is no one word in the whole lexicon of legal and criminological terms which is so elusive of definition as the word crime” (McCabe 1983:49)
It reminds me of the first thing that we were thought during my time as an Economics student – namely, that the study of Economics was an “inexact social science”.
Inexact laws that contain in their antecedents vague ceteris paribus (“all other things being equal”) conditions and “facts” based on local beliefs or tendencies do not constitute definitions.
The different definitions of crime and the vastly different tariffs which certain criminal offences attract are therefore, for the most part best understood in the context of the culture, religious practices and societal “norms” of the region or country that are being examined (excluding the universally abhorred offences – but irritatingly that is not always the case either).
- Judicial Corporal Punishment in Saudi Arabia for Possession of Alcohol (Flogging);
- Mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore;
- Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s state sanctioned vigilante murders of suspected drug dealers;
- The universal application of sharia (Islamic law) by certain countries;
- The acceptance of sharia in some secular European countries as the basis for divorce, inheritance and other personal affairs of their Islamic population;
Looking around Google I came across the following definition of crime which was not accredited:
“Harmful act or omission against the public which the State wishes to prevent and which, upon conviction, is punishable by fine, imprisonment, and/or death. No conduct constitutes a crime unless it is declared criminal in the laws of the country. Some crimes (such as theft or criminal damage) may also be civil wrongs (torts) for which the victim(s) may claim damages in compensation.”
Types of Crime (In the Republic of Ireland)
* A crime is defined in law in the Republic of Ireland as an act which may be punished by the State. The way in which a criminal offence is investigated and prosecuted depends on the type of crime involved. For these purposes criminal offences may be described in different ways such as:
- Summary offences
- Indictable offences
- Minor offences
- Serious offences
- Arrestable offences
* Citizens Information. (19 July 2016). Classification of crimes in criminal cases. Journal, [online] Volume(Issue), P1. Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].
The Test for “Guilt”
However, the mental state as well as the physical elements of a crime are key parts of establishing the guilt of a person committing an offence. In order for a person to be guilty of an offence there must be coincidence between two key concepts, that of “Mens Rea” and “Actus Reus”:
- Mens Rea dictates that there must be a guilty mind, moral culpability and a blameworthy state of mind;
- Actus Reus concerns itself with with the physical elements of the crime and excludes the mental element;
For guilt to be established then the two concepts must be coincidental “happening or existing at the same time”.
The latin phrase “Actus Non Facit Reum, Nisi Mens Sit Rea” translates as “An act does not itself constitute guilt unless the mind is guilty”.
Naidoo, Jadel. 2016/2017. Diploma in Criminology Class Notes. Dublin Business School 1 (1) 1-14;
Penrose, Graham, AirGap Anonymity Collective (16 January 2017). Mass Surveillance & The Oxford Comma Analogy. Blog [online] Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].
Penrose, Graham, AirGap Anonymity Collective (3 January 2017). Orwell 4.0: The Stealth Advance of Kinematic Fingerprinting & Emotion Detection for Mass Manipulation. Blog [online] Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].
Penrose, Graham, AirGap Anonymity Collective (21 November 2016). NSA, GCHQ, The Five Eyes Handing Ireland Cyber-Security Opportunity. Blog [online] Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].
Penrose, Graham, AirGap Anonymity Collective (29 October 2016). Ireland is NOT a Privacy Advocate. Blog [online] Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].
Hausman, Daniel M. 1984. Causal Priority. Noûs, 18 (2): 261-279.
Hausman, Daniel M. 1998. Causal asymmetries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Citizens Information. (19 July 2016). Classification of crimes in criminal cases. Journal, [online] Volume(Issue), P1. Available at: URL [Accessed 25th February. 2017].