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Criminal law is by definition jurisdictional and the definition for a crime may differ greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. Generally the definitions for crimes may be found in a country's penal code. In contrast, the procedural aspects of a given criminal justice system will be found in the Code of Criminal Procedure. All of these crimes would be considered Mala in se because they are intrinsicaly wrong. However, all countries have crimes which are also considered malum prohibitum, wrong simply for the violation of a legislative norm. Following is a sample list of some of the most common mala in se crimes that are present in almost every criminal justice system around the globe.

List of Crimes

  • Crimes Against Property
    • Arson
    • Blackmail
    • Burglary
    • Embezzlement
    • Extortion
    • False Pretense
    • Identity Theft
    • Larceny
    • Receiving Stolen Property
    • Robbery
    • Trespass
  • Crimes Against "Public Order"
    • Disturbing the Peace
    • Idecent Exposure and other minor sex crimes
    • Obscenity
    • Possession or sale of controlled substances
    • Possession of Firearm
    • Prostitution
    • Solicitation
    • Vagrancy

Determining Criminal Liability

Even though this basic list of crimes is almost universally accepted around the globe, the basic approach to determining criminal liability varies from one jurisdiction to the next. There are at least three basic approaches that have gained prominence: the American Common Law approach, The Model Pensl Code approach and the German or Continental approach used in many civil law countries.

Common Law Definition of a Crime

In order for a crime to have been committed, certain elements must be fulfilled. The exact definition of what constitutes a crime can differ from country to country.

As a general rule, every crime has two main elements:

  1. Actus Reus (Voluntary Act)
  2. Mens Rea (Culpable Mental State)

In addition, their must be:

  1. Concurrence of Actus Reus and Mens Rea
  2. Damages

Analysis can take place in any order.

In addition, each crime itself can be broken down to elements. In the United States, the prosecution is generally required to prove that the defendant had the requisite mental state for each element in order to prove the crime.

Model Penal Code Definition of a Crime

The American Law Institute's Model Penal Code continues to have great influence in the United States and in other common law countries around the world. The Model Penal Code take a somewhat different approach to criminal liability than traditional common law, although they are very similar. In order for criminal liability to exist, the Model Penal Code requires the following elements to be proven:

  1. Conduct that
    1. inflicts or threatens
    2. substantial harm to individual or public interests
  2. without justification
  3. without excuse

German Definition of a Crime

Contintental and German academics and lawyers have a slightly different approach to determining criminal culpability. Rather than the common law dichtomoy of Mens Rea and Actus Reus, German thinkers tend to analyze culpability as having three elements:

  1. Definition
  2. Wrongdoing
  3. Culpability

In order to determine criminal liability german lawyers must analyze these three elements in order.When analyzing the first stage, the lawyer will determine whether there has been a voluntary act, a violation of a norm, causation, and damages. If these exist, a crime will exist and the defendant is presumed to have wrongfully acted. The defendant can then overcome this presumption by showing that the conduct was somehow justified. If the defendant is unable to rebut the presumption of wrongdoing, the judge will analyze the final stage to determine legal culpability. Culpability can be negated by a showing of an excuse. If the defendant is unable to negate culpability, he is guilty of the crime.


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