Crime | How exactly crime is defined? Exploring Diverse Perspectives

crime is any form of conduct which is declared to be socially harmful in a State and as such forbidden by law under pain of some punishment.


Shubham Kumar

1/28/20245 min read

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Defining crime is a complex task, as it involves navigating through societal norms, legal perspectives, and evolving viewpoints. Various scholars and legal experts have attempted to encapsulate the essence of crime, leading to diverse definitions that reflect different aspects of this intricate concept.

In this article we are going to understand what exactly the definition of crime is? Crime is defined is multiple ways by multiple scholars, so let's find out which definition do we prefer?

Reference- Criminology, Penology, Victimology by Prof. N. V. Paranjape

Definition of Crime

Since, the definition of crime has been gone through multi-faceted speculations and conclusions by many scholars, therefore, it's a complex task to define exact meaning of crime. Serving a precise definition of crime is nearly impossible, as almost all the societies are entangled with certain norms, beliefs, customs and traditions, which significantly influences the definition of crime of them.

Therefore, the definition of crime differs with the change in beliefs and traditions of society. Those acts which deemed to be against the customs and norms of the society are considered as the anti-social behavior. Therefore, many scholars usually define crime as an anti-social, immoral or sinful behavior.

Since, the norms, beliefs, customs and traditions differs in each society, therefore, it's impossible to cast a definition according on social basis. Therefore, we define crime in accordance with legal parlances. Therefore, according to the legal definition, crime is any form of conduct which is declared to be socially harmful in a State and as such forbidden by law under pain of some punishment.

Definition of Crime by many scholars

Analyzing the definition of crime according to the legal parlances, many scholars now began to define the crime according to the legal parlances and the social parlances which they belief to be right. Below are the multiple scholars who defined crime as-


An intentional act or omission in violation of criminal law committed without any defense or justification and penalized by the law as felony or misdemeanor. by- Tappan

Tappan defined crime in association with the definition authorized by legal parlances. He defines crime as any conduct deemed socially harmful and forbidden by law, subject to punishment.


Crimes are wrongs whose sanction is punitive, and is in no way remissible by any private person, but is remissible by the Crown alone, if remissible at all. by- Kenny

Kenny was more focused on targeting the punitive aspects which defining the crime. Kenny suggests that crimes are wrongs with punitive sanctions, exclusively remissible by the Crown, prompting discussions about the remissibility of certain offenses. However, this definition has evoked criticism on the ground that there are indeed a number of compoundable offences that are remissible by the consent of the parties.

Roscoe Pound

A final definition of crime is impossible, because law is a living and changing thing, which may at one time be based on sovereign will and at another time on juristic science, which may at one time be uniform, and at another time give much room for judicial discretion, which may at one time be more specific in its prescription and at another time much more general.. by- Roscoe Pound

Roscoe Pound has acknowledged the fact that, since time being in force, the ways to commit crime and the definition of crime will evolve certainly. Therefore, he emphasizes the impossibility of a final definition due to law's dynamic and changing nature. Moreover, highlighting its dependence on sovereign will and juristic science.

Cross & Jones

Crime is an act which possess the nature of being legally wrong and the remedy for which is punishment of the offender at the instance of the State.. by- Cross & Jones

Cross & Jones were focused on the aligning the definition of crime with legality and state remedy. He offered a concise definition, presenting crime as a legal wrong necessitating punishment by the State.

John Gillin

Crime is an act that has been shown to be actually harmful to the society or that is believed to be socially harmful by a group of people that has power to enforce its beliefs and that places such act upon the ban of positive penalties.. by- John Gillin

John Gillin explains crime while addressing the multiple other factors like social harm and positive penalties. Therefore, he defines crime as an act proven harmful to society, placing it under the jurisdiction of the law and subject to positive penalties.

Blackstone and Stephen

A crime is an act committed or omitted, in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it. by- Blackstone

Initially, Blackstone defines crime as commission and omission of an act which is against the law of land. However, the problem with the definition was that it limits the scope and circumference of crime. The offences like political offence and offence of state, lands outside of this definition. Therefore, he redefined the definition of crime.

A crime is a violation of the 'public rights and duties' due to the whole community. By-Blackstone

This was the redefined definition of crime, given by Blackstone, which includes both domains, society and law.

A crime is a violation of a right, considered in reference to the evil tendency of such violation as regards the community at large. By- Blackstone and Stephen

Later, Stephen, the editor of Blackstone's commentaries further modified the definition.

Crime is an act which is both forbidden by law and revolting to the moral sentiments of the society. By-Stephen

Stephen modifies Blackstone's definition, stating that a crime is a violation of a right, considering its evil tendency concerning the community at large. Later he added it's own definition of crime too.

Donald Taft

Crime is a social injury and an expression of subjective opinion varying in time and place. By- Donald Taft

Donald Taft presents crime as a social injury and an expression of subjective opinion, emphasizing its variability across time and place.


crime as an unlawful act which is an offence against the public and the perpetrator of that act is liable to legal punishment. By- Halsbury

Halsbury defines crime as an unlawful act against the public, with the perpetrator subject to legal punishment, providing a comprehensive and accepted definition.


A crime is any undesirable act which the State finds it most convenient to correct by the institution of proceedings for the infliction of a penalty, instead of leaving the remedy to the discretion of the injured party. By- Keeton

Legal Definition of Crime

Since there are many, scholars who defined crime, it's visible that their definition does lands on different dynamics. However, they all have one common aspect, and that's aligning with the legal framework. This suggests that the definition of crime can differ in each society, however the official and punishable definition of crime will be same for each society, as it is defined by the law. Therefore, as per law,

Crime is defined as omission and commission of an unlaw full act, or any act which is against the law stated by government. Crime has been advanced due to modern influence, advancement of technology as well as dur to evolution."

Attributes of Crime

Considering various definitions, it becomes evident that a crime typically exhibits three main attributes:

  1. Anti-Social Act: Perpetrated harm by an individual against societal norms.

  2. Preventive State Action: The State intervenes with punishment as a preventive measure.

  3. Legal Proceedings: Guilt or innocence is determined through criminal law procedures and evidence.


In modern criminal jurisprudence, crime is often seen as a public wrong, emphasizing the maintenance of public order and protection against anti-social acts. While definitions may vary, the essence lies in understanding crime as a societal breach with legal consequences. Halsbury's definition stands out for its specificity and acceptance in the legal discourse.