What is a Criminal

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"What is a Criminal"
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Simply put, a criminal is a person who commits a crime.  He or she does something that is not allowed by law.  What actions are considered crimes is determined by various government entities, whether those governments be federal, state, or local.  Laws are enacted due to public safety concerns as well as to ensure that governments produce the revenue necessary to run efficiently and provide citizens with necessary services.  For instance, a municipality may enact an ordinance against operating a business without a license.  If a business owner wants to do business in that municipality he must buy a business license or face the prescribed penalty. 

What is permissible in one government’s jurisdiction is not necessarily permissible in another’s.  This causes a dilemma in some cases.  Consider the case of marijuana possession.  There are states that have decriminalized marijuana for medical use, while the federal government still considers possession of marijuana a crime.  Hence, while someone who possesses marijuana might not be considered a criminal in one of these states, the federal government could lawfully arrest and prosecute them.*  In effect, whether or not one is a criminal is determined by federal or state legislative bodies and city councils, since they are the ones that determine which actions constitute crimes within their jurisdictions.      

Often we think of a criminal as a person who is dangerous, a person who seeks to forcefully take our property or cause us bodily injury or death.  We may not see traffic or local ordinance violations as criminal activity.  However, any infraction against the law is a crime.  Thus the person who commits the infraction is technically a criminal.  Of course, if we applied this broad definition to the general population and pursued prosecution, practically everyone would be arrested and hauled into court!  Thankfully, this is not the case.

There are different degrees of criminality.  The person who is convicted of a traffic violation such as running a red light or failure to yield the right of way is not considered on the same par with a person who commits domestic violence.  The person who is convicted of misdemeanor shoplifting is not on the same par with the person who is convicted of armed robbery or murder.  Yet all these actions exceed the bounds of the law and are therefore “crimes”.  As such, there are penalties that the convicted person must pay.  These can range from fines and community service to jail or prison time depending on the severity of the crime. 

All of these crimes or infractions are recorded on the violator’s record.  However, there is a difference.  The traffic violation will be removed automatically after time, while the criminal record will not likely be removed except in cases where the conviction is overturned or a judge has reason to order the record expunged.   So a person convicted of a crime is thereby branded and bears a “scarlet letter” of sorts.    A criminal record is considered proof of his poor character and the likelihood that he will offend again.  Perception is very important.  The person with a criminal record faces a lifetime of obstacles to gainful employment and gaining society’s trust if he wishes to reform.  It is interesting that the person who has never been caught, but is committing crimes will not face the same obstacles.  Yet, that person is actually an undercover criminal engaging in behavior that undermines society’s values and public safety. 

If the offender truly reforms – stops committing crimes, is that person still a criminal?  The answer is no, because a criminal is someone who engages in criminal activity on a regular basis.  Criminals embrace a criminal lifestyle.  


More about this author: Renita Martin

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