There are crimes and then there are moral wrongs, or wrongs that society feels is so severe they should be condemned, that most people feel should be punishable crimes. Actually, in technical terms they are crimes, they are just not legal crimes that necessary violate a criminal law. A natural crime is crimes that is not illegal but is considered wrong, condemned, and deserving of reprimand by society even though it does not necessary violate a criminal law. However, a legal crime actually violates a criminal law. For instance, some states may view gambling as a natural crime as society sees it as fundamentally wrong yet the state may not hold gambling as a legal crime, thus not punishable by law. This paper examines the similarities and differences between natural crime and legal crime and the concepts of mala en se versus mala prohibita, as applied to the crimes of the FBI crime index.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting index is made up of eight specifically selected crimes that help officials to determine and examine crime rates and trends (Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). The crimes chosen for the Uniform Crime Reporting Index are the crimes that make up Part I offenses of the FBI crime index and consist of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson (Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). These crimes are included as the FBI crime index because they are considered to be the most occurring serious crimes in the nation (Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). Arson was not included in the FBI crime index until 1979 in which time it was added by Congress (Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). According to the Uniform Crime Reporting program requirements, a crime is cleared once an arrest of a suspect is made and charges are brought against the suspect, although there are some special cases that exist in clearing special crimes (Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002). Where do these crimes lie in the differences and similarities of natural crime and legal crime though?
Legal crime, as we examined earlier in this paper, is a crime that actually violates criminal law, meaning that a legal crime, except in circumstances that this report will cover, is also considered a mala prohibita crime, meaning that the crime is wrong because it is prohibited by law, according to the definition (Davis, 2006). Logic would stand to reason then when considering the definition of legal crimes that natural crimes would be considered mala en se crimes, correct? Unfortunately, according to Chambliss and Seidman, these concepts and definitions break down and become much more complicated and more intertwined when applied to specific crimes (Davis, 2006). According to Chambliss and Seidman, determining whether a crime is mala en se or mala prohibita actually depends on the intent of the crime itself (Davis, 2006). For instance, if a mother kills a baby through abortion, then it is considered murder or some would say mala en se. However, if the mother aborted the baby because she was a rape victim, depending on the laws of the state, the crime could be considered mala prohibita instead. The difference in determining the meaning is that society decided almost unanimously that abortion of an unborn baby because the mother was a rape victim is not wrong in itself even if considered wrong legally. According to Barely Legal, crimes that are mala en se are crimes that are so severe in nature against society that society almost unanimously condemns it (Barely Legal, 2007). In fact for the theory of Barely Legal, crimes considered mala en se must have criminal intent, while crimes considered mala prohibita no criminal intent is necessary, just the enactment of the prohibited act (Barely Legal, 2007).
If one agrees that a natural crime is considered to be a mala en se crime and a legal crime is considered to be a mala prohibita crime then when applied to specific crimes of the FBI crime index using the theories of Chambliss and Seidman, then one can only make basic assumptions as to what crimes are mala en se and what crimes are mala prohibita since criminal intent and circumstances must be considered. Under the theory, natural crime or mala en se crimes are wrong regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Using this concept, the crimes of robbery, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, and arson are all natural crimes. However, since some states allow abortion of an unborn child in certain circumstances then it is reasonable to say under the concept that murder and nonnegligent manslaughter are mala prohibita, or legal crimes. If the state that a person resides in though does hold abortion as wrong and illegal regardless of circumstances, the murder in that case can be considered mala en se or a natural crime.
As one can ascertain from examination of the theories and facts surrounding natural and legal crimes there lays many problems in determination of what is considered a natural crime and what is considered a legal crime. Just as one example, in the course of researching this very paper the author found many conflicting definitions as to determining which crimes fell under what categories. Also, as states adapt in changing laws and regulations what could be considered just a legal crime one day could turn out to be a natural crime the next day and vice versa. Key elements for determination to remember is that a natural crime is mostly defined as a mala en se crime, or crime that is inherently wrong while a legal crime is only wrong in that it violates a criminal law or statute. Also, for a crime to be considered mala en se, or a natural crime, then criminal intent must exist while with legal crime no intent is necessary. Finally, most cases surrounding circumstances must be considered to form a determination. A legal crime in one state may be a natural crime for another state. It is also extremely important to note that for a crime to be considered a natural crime, society must almost unanimously consider it to be inherently wrong, not just a small group of people. It is now funny to think that the author and society originally thought that a crime was just a crime.
Barely Legal (2007). Crim law 1. Retrieved July 5, 2008, from http://www.freewebs.com/homerpablo/criminallaw.htm
Davis, M. S. (2006). Crimes mala en se: An equity-based definition. Criminal Justice Policy Review 2006, 17, 270. Retrieved July 2, 2008, from University of Phoenix, Sage Full Text database.
Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation (2002). Crime in the United States. Retrieved July 5, 2008, from http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_02/html/web/offreported/02-ncrimeindex01.html