Home introduction to Criminology CRIMES, OFFENDERS AND CRIME VICTIMS


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We have already defined crime and the elements of crime. Furthermore, in this unit we shall examine the classification of crimes, the patterns and trends of crimes, and the official treatment of crimes. The classification is based on the degree and severity of the crime. The classification also enables us to comprehend why some crimes were termed more than others.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. explain the basis of the classification of crimes 
  2. list the categories of crimes 
  3.  examine the patterns and trend of crimes 
  4.  explain the official treatment of crimes.


3.1 Classification of Crimes

Crime is classified according to the severity or degree of the offence. It could also be classified by the nature of the Acts Prohibited, or some other categories. One instance of this classification in the severity of the offence could be seen in the division of crimes into a felony and a misdemeanor. A felony is a serious offence punishable by death, a fine, or confinement in a state or federal prison for more than one year. A misdemeanor is punishable by certain amount of fine and one year imprisonment. It could be noted that a felony in one society might be a misdemeanor in another. Conversely, a misdemeanor in one society might be a felony in another society or jurisdiction.

Crimes can be categorised into three ways:

  1.  moral order (victimless crimes) – victim of law in which there are no readily apparent victim, such as prostitution, gambling, vagrancy, purchasing illegal drugs like cannabis or marijuana 
  2.  property crimes- common crimes committed in industrial societies, including robbery, burglary and larceny
  3. violent crimes – involve threat of violence include murder, manslaughter, infanticide, assault, sexual assault, abduction and robbery. 

Leslie Wilkins used a historical analysis to classify similar crimes together and separating those which do not show similar patterns. He classified them into four categories:

  1.  homicide, (a) murder and (b) manslaughter 
  2.  serious crimes against the person (including sex offences and violence) 
  3.  serious crimes against property (burglary, breaking and entry and robbery) 
  4.  social disorganisation (drunkenness, disorderly conduct and petty larceny). 

These categories tend to show different patterns and thus suggest heterogeneity. In many jurisdictions the legal classification does not discriminate by degree of seriousness. Robbery, for example, will generally cover a bank robbery at one end of the scale and a petty larceny on the other.
Another way of categorising crimes is to classify the offences between (i) Mala in se and (ii) Mala prohibita. The mala in se crimes are offences universally accepted everywhere and at all times as crime. For example, murder and robbery are offences everywhere, be it in Nigeria, France or America. Mala prohibita crimes are offences that are pronounced illegal because the laws of that particular society have declared it so. This type of offence lacks universality and is timeless. Examples of such illegal offences are grambling, Abduction, Burglary and prostitution.


Explain the following terms with examples

(1) victimless crimes
(2) property crimes
(3) violent crimes
(4) social disorganisation.

3.1.1 Patterns and Trends of Crimes

There is no society that is free of crime. It is inevitable in all societies. The problem it creates has been a major subject of concern to both the private and public since antiquity. Criminologists have found that criminal victimisation is not random. Crimes are likely to occur in some places than others due to certain demographic conditions and different lifestyles.

In Nigeria, like in other countries of the world, crimes are classified in accordance to offence against properties or persons, and moral order crimes. The crimes against the state include sedition, military offences, coup d’etat and mutiny. Others are armed robbery, drug trafficking, illegal oil bunkering, smuggling, e.t.c. In recent years, there have been upsurge activities of criminality in Nigeria. This tremendous upsurge has created a threat and uncertainty in the security of lives and property of the people in the recent times. In contemporary Nigeria, the trend of crime is much sophisticated. The criminals use dynamite and hard grenades to blow up doors of the bullion vans. This act of sophistication, could be traced to the emergency of educated and intelligent people involved in crimes especially some undergraduates and graduates. The trend has also moved from the mere acts of pipe-line vandalisation to the kidnapping of foreign oil workers and non-oil workers including infants and the aged. The most prominent among these are:

(1) organised crimes
(2) state organised crimes
(3) white-collar crimes.

  1.  Sociologists define organised crimes as crimes committed by criminal groups involving the provision of illegal good and  services. Some of the most prominent activities of organised crime include the gambling, illegal drugs, money laundering, human trafficking, cyber crime, online Banking Advance Fee Fraud (419); kidnapping e.t.c. The trend in Nigeria involves group action. That is, a mass invasion of armed robbers to a particular raid operation. This raid group numbers from 30 to 50 men. In this development, armed robbers could operate for hours without any help to the victims by the law enforcement agencies. 
  2.  State organised crimes consist of acts defined by law as criminal that are committed by state and government officials in the pursuit of their jobs as representatives of the government. Prominent among them are electoral fraud, hired Assassination. 
  3.  White-collar crimes are those committed by people of high social status in connection with their legitimate work. There are two main principals in the definition of white-collar crime: 

(a) the offender is a person of high social status, and
(b) it is committed in the course of a legitimate activity.
Among these crimes are bribery of government officials, embezzlement by officials, granting loans to oneself, opening and operating fraudulent accounts, cheque theft, forgery and allegations, production of substandard products, e.t.c. These are examples of the most serious and violent crimes that have been in tremendous increase in the recent times in Nigeria.


What are the principal types of crime committed more frequently in recent times; and who is most likely to commit them?

3.1.2 Official Treatment of Crimes

The official treatment of crime is applies criminal justice system method. It is the society’s formal response to crime. The criminal justice itself is defined as a legal process which involves the procedure of processing the person accused of committing crime from arrest to the final disposal of the case.

Justice is concerned with content. Laws should be fair and reasonable in themselves. It is not just a matter of applying the rules reasonably, whatever those rules might be, it is also about the distribution of obligations and opportunities in society (Dambazau, 1999). Equality is the very essence of justice. According to Hamitton, “it is natural”. The criminal justice agencies are the main actors in the official treatment of crimes: the police are responsible for detecting crime and apprehending people who violate the criminal law; the courts decide guilt or innocence, and sentence those who are convicted or those who plead guilty; and the prisons or corrections carry out the sentence of the court and rehabilitate criminals.

1. The Police The police are the largest and most important subsystem of the criminal justice system. It is the “gate –keeper” of the justice system. It decides who goes into the system, and its decision has a wider implication for the other system components. It lubricates the system by the arrest of a suspect. The policemen carry out the arrest of a suspect through discretion.
The job of the police officer is complex. A United State National Advisory Commission on criminal justice standards and Goals identify eleven functions of the police, and from all indications, these functions have universal application:

  1.  preventing criminal activity 
  2.  detecting criminal activity 
  3. apprehending criminal offenders 
  4.  participating in court proceeding 
  5.  protecting constitutional guarantees 
  6. assisting those who cannot care for themselves or who are in danger of physical harm 
  7. controlling traffic 
  8.  resolving day-to-day conflict among family, friends and neighbours 
  9.  creating and maintaining feeling of security in the community  investigating crimes 
  10.  promoting and preserving civil order. 

2. Courts The criminal courts are the second component in the triangular relationship of the criminal justice system. A court is defined as the agency set up by government to define and apply the law, to order its enforcement and to settle disputed points on which individual or groups do not agree. It is only the courts that determine the guilt or innocence of the accused person. According to pound, the administration of justice revolves round the court system. A person who violates the criminal law is brought before the court.

The main actors of the criminal courts are the accused, the person accused of crime, charged and brought to plead; the police, who are also regular users because they always appear to request charges be filed against a suspect, sometimes to prosecute, to testify at hearings, and to serve as witness during trial; the judge or jury, who listens to the charges, analyse the facts as they relate to the law, and determine who is guilty or innocent; the prosecutor, who represents the state and carries the burden of proving the case beyond reasonable doubt in order to earn the accused conviction; and the defence, who represents the accused and rebut the case presented by the prosecution in order to earn the accused discharge and acquittal.

3. The Prisons 

The prison is responsible for the custody of the final product in the criminal justice system. The prison carries out measures to prevent escapes, by erecting high walls, placing armed guards, constant checks of cells, providing a system of passes for movement within the prison. The prison according to Erving Goffman is a “total institution”. That is, to be locked up in a physical, psychological and the prisoner has no control. This entails denying the prisoner the fundamental choices of everyday life.


State the universal functions of the police officer.


From this unit, students should be able to know how crimes are categorised. You should know which crimes are within the category of crimes against persons, property crimes and moral order crimes. Students are enlightened that crimes of mala prohibita are crimes because the law of the society says so.


We have been able to discuss various classifications of crimes. We looked at why some crimes are regarded as felony and others as misdemeanor. We examined the patterns and trends of crime, we also discussed about the official treatment of crimes using the concept of the criminal justice systems of the criminal agencies (the police, the criminal courts and the prison).


What are the differences between crimes of mala in se and mala prohibita? Give examples.


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