Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Offense Definition:

Conduct prohibited and punishable by the State.

Related Terms: Crime

A crime; an act which contravenes the criminal law of the state in which it occurs.

Spelled offence in many jurisdictions.

In R. v M., Judge Karswick of the Ontario Provincial Court adopted these words to define offence:

"(T)he word offence has evolved to define a concept which involves the prohibition of some definable conduct by the State and the imposition of some definable punishment for failure to comply with the duty imposed.

"... an act contrary to, offending against, and punishable by, law, but particularly one made to by statute rather than by common law, the latter being usually called crimes, and also particularly one punishable on summary conviction."

Justice Muldoon used these words in Russell v Radley (Federal Court of Canada), that an offence:

"... excludes a tort or a délit.

"What then is meant by offence? Surely it must mean conduct (truly, culpable misconduct) defined and prohibited by law, which, if found beyond a reasonable doubt to have been committed in fact, is punishable by fine, imprisonment or other penalty imposed according to law upon the culpable miscreant, the offender."


  • Russell v Radley, [1984] 1 F.C. 543 (Editor's note: the context was the scope of §11 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
  • R. v. M., 24 C.C.C. (3d) 288 (1985). (Editor's note: that second part of Judge Karswick's proposal was taken from the The Oxford Companion to Law (1980)).

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!