Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Crime Definition:

An act or omission which is prohibited by criminal law and punished, usually by fine or imprisonment.

Related Terms: Criminal Law, Offense, Misdemeanor, Alibi, Actus Reus

Each state sets out a limited series of acts (crimes) which are prohibited and punishes the commission of these acts by a fine, imprisonment or some other form of punishment, through a body of law called criminal law.

The 1911 description of Odgers remains true:

"A crime is a wrongful act of such a kind that the State deems it necessary, in the interests of the public, to repress it; for its repetition would be harmful to the community as a whole."

crime scene tapeIn exceptional cases, an omission to act can constitute a crime, such as failing to give assistance to a person in peril or failing to report a case of child abuse.

Many jurists prefer the term "offense" or "offence" when referring to conduct that attracts sanction by the state in which the offence occurred.

A tort is another form of wrongful act.


  • Odgers, W. B., The Common Law of England (London: Sweet & Maxwell Limited, 1911), page 101.

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