Crime is defined as: commission of an act or act of omission that violates the law and is punishable by the state. Crimes are considered injurious to society and the community. As defined by law, a crime includes both the act, or actus rea, and the intent to commit the act, or mens rea. Criminal intent involves an intellectual apprehension of factual elements of the act or acts commanded or enjoined by the law. It is usually inferred from the apparently voluntary commission of an overt act. Criminal liability is relieved in the case of insanity. Legal minors are also relieved of criminal liability, as are persons subjected to coercion or duress to such a degree as to render the commission of criminal acts involuntary. In most countries, crimes are defined and punished pursuant to statutes. Punishments may include death, imprisonment, exile, fines, forfeiture of property, removal from public office, and disqualification from holding such office.
Unless the act of which a defendant is accused is expressly defined by statute as a crime, no indictment or conviction for the commission of such an act can be legally sustained. This provision is important in establishing the difference between government by law and arbitrary or dictatorial government.
Under common law, a crime was generally classified as treason, felony, or misdemeanor, but many offenses could not be defined exactly, and the rule was adopted that any immoral act tending to the prejudice of the community was, per se, a crime, and punishable by the courts. Crimes are now usually classified as mala in se, which includes acts, such as murder, so offensive to morals as to be obviously criminal; and mala prohibita, which are violations of specific regulatory statutes, such as traffic violations, that ordinarily would not be punishable in the absence of statutory enactments prohibiting the commission of such acts. In most cases, crimes, including treason, that are mala in se are called felonies and are punished more severely than those that are mala prohibita, most of the latter falling into the category of misdemeanors.
Nearly everyone in America has been touched by crime in one way or another. There are reports of murders, arson, robberies, etc. every night on the news. However, the viewer is constantly bombarded with reports that there is either a crime wave or that crime is receding. This can confuse even the most adamant viewer. The book The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice by Kappeler, Blumberg, and Potter breaks down the essentials and gives the reader ideas on what exactly crime is, how it is represented by the media, and how Americans respond to it. In Chapter 2, the authors discuss crime waves and their effects on society.
In Chapter 2, the authors point out the main contributing factor to crime in the United States--poverty. According to the text, the main contributor to crime in the United States is a young, black male living in an urban environment. The text also notes that blacks commit crimes at three times the rate of their percentage in the national population.
The official crime rate in the United States is measured by the Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Reports. However, there is strong criticism for the FBIs measurement of crime using the UCR. For example, the FBI does not require that any person be arrested for crimes that are reported. All that is required is for someone to believe that a crime actually took place. One can see where this could create misleading statistics. For example, if someone were to lose a checkbook at a local mall, they could report that a pickpocket had stolen the checkbook from them. Under the FBIs UCR, this would be labeled as a crime, even though the checkbook was misplaced and was in fact not stolen.
Another source of crime information is found in the National Crime Victimization Survey. This survey is conducted through 100,000 households across the country by the Department of Justice. This survey is superior to the FBIs UCR in the fact that they measure both reported and unreported crime, are unaffected by technological changes in police record keeping, levels of reporting by the victims to the police, and other factors. Even though the data may be represented in various ways among the media, the NCVS is considered scientifically valid.
Chapter 2 also makes reference to race and crime. There has been wide speculation that most crimes as committed by minorities against whites in the United States. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has documented several crimes that make this assumption void. For example, seventy-five percent of white crime victims are victimized by whites, and eighty-five percent of black victims are victimized by blacks. This is contrary to the popular coverage that most media gives Americans. The authors note that most crime covered by Americans tabloids show such crimes as young African American men shooting white tourists at rest stops, gang attacks on innocent civilians in the cities, and attacks against minority youth appeal. All in all, the victims are the same race as the offenders in 80% of all violent crimes.
The last topic discussed in The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice is crime and perception. When most people are asked to imagine a crime, they tend to think of violent crime (i.e., murder, arson, robbery). One must realize that shoplifting, slander, even jaywalking is considered a crime in the United States. The authors note that many tabloid television shows such as Hard Copy and A Current Affair show violent crime instead of petty thefts. The reason for this is clear--not many viewers would turn to watch a show that discussed petty crimes. The media has made crime into a great moneymaking opportunity. By viewing television shows like these, the viewer comes to believe that the only crimes that exist are violent crimes. This is due to the fact that the media spends so much time covering violent crimes here in the United States.
As you can see, there are many factors in deciphering crime today. Different reports and different presentations by the media can lead the public to believe that minorities commit crimes against the white majority, almost all crimes committed today are violent, most crimes are committed by young, urban black males, and the list goes on. The best way for people to understand crime or a crime wave is through the use of statistics. Since most crime covered on television, radio, or through other media sources focuses on violent crimes, these statistics can be very confusing. As the authors point out in The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice by Victor E. Kappeler, Mark Blumberg, and Gary W. Potter, crime can be perceived in nearly every fashion. Unfortunately, crime is reported in ways that are not always accurate solely to influence the public.