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Chapter 1 The nature of crime

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1 Chapter 1 The nature of crime

2 In this chapter, you will study the nature and meaning of crime
In this chapter, you will study the nature and meaning of crime. You will also be introduced to the different categories and elements of crimes and the possible parties to a crime. Finally, you will consider the various factors affecting criminal behaviour.

3 The nature and meaning of crime
A crime is an act (or omission) committed against the community at large that is punishable by the state. This could be any act that lawmakers in a society have deemed to be criminal.

4 The nature and meaning of crime
Many factors contribute to what that a particular society determines is or is not a crime. These include the society’s culture, history, legal traditions, social attitudes, philosophical and religious beliefs, or political systems.

5 The nature and meaning of crime
Crimes are constantly changing: crimes can become outdated and may be abolished, like the former crimes of witchcraft or being a ‘common scold’ new crimes are also created as society develops, like the newer offences of computer hacking or sending spam.

6 The nature and meaning of crime
The criminal law deals with many aspects of crime, from initially planning a crime to investigation and arrest, through to conviction and sentencing by a court. The aim of criminal law is to protect the community and impose a sanction on the offender if he or she is found guilty by a court of law.

7 The nature and meaning of crime
In a criminal trial, the state (or Crown) brings the case against the accused to court – the state’s representative is called the prosecutor. The state must prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. If the case is proved and the offender is found guilty, the court can impose a sentence on the offender from a range of available sanctions.

8 Elements of crime For most crimes, to establish guilt the prosecution must prove that two basic elements were present when the crime was committed: that the accused actually committed the act (actus reus or ‘guilty act’) that the accused sufficiently intended to commit the act (mens rea or ‘guilty mind’). Generally, this requires that the act was voluntary, and that it was either fully intended, reckless or criminally negligent.

9 Causation A causal link needs to be established between the accused and the act they are accused of. For example, consider a situation where a person assaults another person by kicking them in the leg, and that person dies later that day. Did the assault in some way cause the death, and if so, could it constitute manslaughter?

10 Strict liability offences
Strict liability offences do not require mens rea to be proved – it is enough to show only that the offender committed the act.

11 Strict liability offences
Because this approach dramatically lowers the level of proof required, these offences are restricted to minor offences, e.g. speeding offences. In most cases, a defence of ‘honest and reasonable mistake’ is still available.

12 Categories of crime Crimes can be categorised in many different ways, for example the type of offence, jurisdiction of offence, seriousness of the offence, or the level of involvement in the offence.

13 Categories of crime In NSW, the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) is the main statute where crimes are listed. The main categories and examples of crime in the Act are shown on the next slide.

14 Type of offence Examples Offences against the person Homicide, assault, sexual assault Offences against the sovereign Treason, sedition Economic offences Property offences, white-collar crime, computer offences Drug offences Trafficking, possession, use Driving offences Speeding, drink driving, negligent driving Public order offences Offensive conduct, obstructing traffic, affray, bomb hoaxes Preliminary offences Attempts, conspiracy Regulatory offences Breach of water restrictions, fire restrictions or public transport rules

15 Offences against the person
These offences involve harm or injury to an individual, including: homicide – murder, manslaughter, infanticide or dangerous driving causing death assault – including physical and threatened harm, and aggravated assaults sexual offences – sexual assault, indecent assault or aggravated sexual assault.

16 Offences against the sovereign
These involve political offences against the government or heads of state, including: treason – attempt to harm the state or head of state or assist the enemy sedition – controversial offence involving promotion of contempt or violence against the government.

17 Economic offences Broad category of crimes involving interference with another person’s property, usually for the purpose of financial gain, including: crimes against property – larceny (theft), robbery, break and enter, shoplifting white-collar crime – embezzlement, tax evasion, insider trading computer offences – hacking, spam, internet fraud fraud.

18 Drug offences Offences involving prohibited or restricted drugs, including: cultivation and production transport, supply and trade (trafficking) possession.

19 Driving offences A broad range of traffic offences related to driving or controlling a motor vehicle, including: exceeding the speed limit driving while disqualified ignoring road signs driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs culpable or dangerous driving.

20 Public order offences Offences involving some act of public disturbance, including: obscene or indecent behaviour possessing certain weapons in public obstructing traffic damaging public property affray (public brawling) or rioting.

21 Preliminary crimes A crime can still be committed even if the final act is not completed. These preliminary crimes include attempts and conspiracy. Penalties for preliminary crimes can be as high as if the crime itself was carried out.

22 Regulatory offences These are usually set out in delegated legislation and carry lower penalties. Examples include: breaching water restrictions ignoring fire restrictions environmental offences public transport offences breach of occupational health and safety standards.

23 Summary and indictable offences
Summary offences are less severe offences heard and sentenced by a magistrate, without a jury. Indictable offences are more serious, and can be heard by a judge and a jury. The characteristics of each type are summarised in the table in the next slide.

24 Summary offence Indictable offence • a less serious offence that is tried by a magistrate in the Local Court • a more serious offence (such as murder, rape or robbery) tried by a judge and jury • the judgment and punishment are determined by a magistrate • the judgment is determined by a jury and the punishment is determined by the judge • the charge is usually laid by a police officer or government officer • the charge is brought by a public prosecutor working for the state • punishment is usually less severe, like a fine or good behaviour bond • the punishment will usually result in imprisonment or a hefty fine

25 Parties to a crime The law recognises that there can sometimes be more than one party to a crime, including: principal in the first degree – person committing the main criminal act principal in the second degree – person present at the scene who assists or encourages the main offender accessory before the fact – person who helps plan or prepare for the crime before the main act accessory after the fact – person who assists the principal after the crime has been committed.

26 Factors affecting criminal behaviour
Some of the main factors affecting criminal behaviour include: psychological factors social factors economic factors political factors self-interest. The role of genetics in criminal behaviour has been largely discredited in favour of the other factors.

27 Factors affecting criminal behaviour
Situational crime prevention aims to make it more difficult to commit a crime or remove the reward of temptation in specific situations for example, putting up warning signs, improving alarms or security, changing lighting or adding colour tags.

28 Factors affecting criminal behaviour
Social crime prevention aims to address the wider socio-economic factors that contribute to criminal activity for example, improving the home environment, reducing social and economic disadvantage or running targeted youth programs.

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