Sociology

Criminal Criminal Defined Lawbreakers Breakers of Societal Norms Societal Boundaries



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Defining a criminal wouldn't appear to be a difficult task. All kinds of visions ensue at the mention of the word. One person's definition of a criminal is not another's. Therefore it has been defined for us. A simple definition would be someone who has been involved in criminal activity or conduct, has committed a crime, or that has been convicted (legally) of a crime.

The last part leaves something to be desired considering that since the return of the death penalty in the 1970s studies have shown that over 50% of capital cases were at least in part decided on information that was unreliable in some manner or other such as perjured testimony.

Wrongful convictions are not few and far between as most would think. Unfortunately capital crimes are not an exception. There has literally been hundreds of wrongful capital crime convictions alone. It is no wonder then that there are those who feel the death penalty should be abolished.

A better definition of a criminal is someone who breaks rules society has had imposed formally and which can be enforced legally by governing bodies. These rules refer to that which is needed to keep order and for the overall good of society.

It does not refer to conforming to the whims of society but rather rules which uphold the peace and safety of the public. Oddly enough or perhaps not, those defined as criminals often have issues of fitting in with and conforming to society in general throughout their lives going as far back possibly as to their childhood.

To further complicate defining what criminal is or means is that the laws vary from country to country, from state to state, from province to province. The rule makers do not all agree on what constitutes criminality. Additionally laws change over time as does the severity of punishment for various crimes.

This is sometimes due to society's own hardening towards certain crimes. What was considered monstrous ten years ago may be considered minor today due to the comparison of other crimes or due to the increased volume of particular crimes.

Examples of laws defining activities that are illegal in one state and likely not in any other state would be:

It is illegal to open an umbrella on the street in Alabama for fear of spooking horses and incestuous marriages are legal. No one in Kansas is allowed to catch a fish with their bare hands and in Tennessee it is illegal to sell hollow logs. In Canada you cannot pay for a fifty cent item with only pennies and citizens may not remove bandages in public. Finally in Finland taxi drivers must pay royalties if they play music in their cars for paying customers.

Albeit these are not laws most of us would take too seriously they are on the books and technically someone could be charged for committing those offenses. The point is that what deems someone to be a criminal in one place may not apply elsewhere.

At some point in time the above laws served some purpose deemed logical at the time. Often old laws are never removed from the books and the reason is the process it takes to get them off or the cost to do so. If one were able to review all the old laws on the books it is more than likely we would all fall under the definition of criminal.

I am not sure that I have successfully explained or defined a criminal to you. Hopefully you'll recognize them by sight or by the roll of pennies sticking out of their pocket. On a more serious note criminals are individuals or groups of individuals whose intent is to break the rules which have been imposed to protect the individuals of society as a whole. While that is a simple explanation of what a criminal is the crimes they commit are classed and defined far more clearly.

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