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The nature of crime embodies the offences made against the state representing society and the population. Within this concept is the operation of principles going to the rights of the victim and the accused in the criminal law process.
This process encompasses the commission and elements of the crime going to the actus reus (action of the accused), mens rea (intention of the accused) and causal link to make out the crime; the criminal investigation by the police; the criminal trial process under the adversarial system; the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt; and the verdict to sentencing options available to the judiciary.
This can be illustrated in the case of R v Munter (2009) NSWSC whilst demonstrating the causation in the death of a man assaulted by Munter acting on the mistaken belief that this man was breaching water restrictions, but showing that his intention to kill was absent whilst his actions contributed to the outcome. In this case, Munter received a custodial sentence for manslaughter.
Summary and indictable offences
Criminal conduct is categorised by summary and indictable offences under the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) and the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) respectively according to their severity. A summary offence is a less serious matter heard in the Local Court (before a magistrate generally resulting in a bond, fine or a jail sentence of up to two years.
By contrast, indictable offences are more serious matters heard at trial in the District Court (most serious offences of manslaughter, murder and aggravated sexual assault being heard in the Supreme Court) following a committal hearing in the Local Court and before a judge and jury.
Offences can be committed against people and property but fundamentally these offences breach the law of the state with sentencing imposed by the state but not necessarily in the interests of the victim.
From homicide (murder and manslaughter) to, assault (common or aggravated) and sexual assault these can be contrasted with property and economic offences involving larceny, robbery or ‘break and enter’ or white-collar crimes involving embezzlement, tax evasion and as can be seen in the case of R v Rivkin (2003) ALR, insider trading in which the accused used confidential stock market information in relation to Qantas shares for personal gain in which he was sentenced to nine months periodic detention.
The different categories of crime
Categories of crime are branded by the type of offence, jurisdiction (NSW or Cth), the seriousness of the offence (summary or indictable) and the parties to a crime.
This can include offences against the person which is reflected as being a serious crime (homicide, assault and sexual assault). The case of Boughey v The Queen (1986) where a doctor strangled his wife during a ‘sex game’ allegedly should have known that the act constituted a ‘reckless indifference to human life’ and therefore was convicted for murder clearly demonstrates this category of crime.
Offences against the Sovereign refer to the main offences of sedition and treason within this area. The Vietnam War ‘draft-card burning’ is an effective example which demonstrates the crime of sedition where thousands of American men protested based on the involvement of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
This led to the case of United States v. O’Brien where both parties argued before the Supreme Court in relation to the concept of sedition where O’Brien was burning his draft-cards at a rally. (Does this have any relation to the Anti-Terrorism Act No.2 (Cth) 2002? and was introduced after 9/11) Economic offences is another area of the criminal law and more significantly, is the largest area of criminal law as it encompasses most common types of crime.
This includes crimes against property (larceny, robbery and ‘break and enter’); white-collar crimes (embezzlement, tax evasion and insider trading; and computer offences (hacking, unauthorized accessing, or modification of data). The media article – Fear in the Fast Lane (ABC, 2009) demonstrates a situation of an economic offence and more specifically, hacking.
It was based on the Alice Springs Turf Club where hackers accessed the online gambling system and brought it down. Main drug related offences include the possession of a prohibited drug; use of a prohibited drug; cultivation (the growth of plant drugs i.e. cannabis) and the supply of a prohibited drug.
Such legislation which has been passed to assist with the enforceability of keeping these types of crimes minimal include the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW); the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW); and the Customs Act 1901 (Cth). Driving associated offences are some of the most commonly committed offences in NSW. Many of these offences will relate to the strict liability offences concept such as speeding.
The most common driving related offences include: exceeding the speed limit; driving without a license or while disqualified; ignoring road signs; and driving above the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.05. Public order crimes are offences that relate to acts that are deemed to disturb the public order in some way; i.e. disturbance in public.
Some of the most common public order offences can include: obscene, indecent or threatening language in public; possessing a knife in public (with no reason); obstructing traffic; and damaging public fountains or protected places. Preliminary crimes are offences split into two main categories of attempts of an offence and conspiracy.
The concept of conspiracy occurs when two or more people plot to commit a crime together. In addition, the failure of an attempted crime can result in the equal possible length of sentence for that particular crime which is demonstrated in Section 344 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) where ‘a person who attempts an offence can be liable for the penalty’. Parties to a crime
The concept of parties to a crime relates to the fact that other people can be involved in the act, either before or after the crime. This can effectively be reflected within the preliminary offence of conspiracy.
The level of punishment is usually determined by that person’s level of involvement in the crime and indeed there are four main categories of ‘parties to a crime’ which are: principal in the first degree (this is the principal offender); principal in the second degree (present at the crime i.e. encourager); accessory before the fact (someone who helped before the crime); accessory after the fact (someone who helped after the crime i.e. driving a getaway car).
A range of factors that may lead to criminal behaviour
A range of situational and social crime prevention techniques There are many significant factors which affect criminal behaviour. The scientific study of crime and criminal behaviour is known as criminology. This covers many aspects of why people might become criminals.
Firstly, the psychological factor is relevant during the drug rehabilitation process and particular sentencing programs. Secondly, social groups that people associate with will often influence a person’s attitude and views of acceptable behaviour. For example, an abusive home environment may impact on one’s future life.
Thirdly, the economic factor is extremely significant as people from disadvantaged backgrounds (i.e. Sydney’s western suburbs) are more likely to commit crimes. This relates to the impact of poor education and lack of skills. Fourthly, politically, offences against the sovereign or against the state are likely to have some political factors influencing their commission. For Example; the G8 Summit protest or the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference are both a major influence.
Essentially, it is vital to understand the factors and motivations behind crime as it related to the possible impact of crime prevention (situational and social). Situational crime prevents usually involves one of the two following approaches: firstly, planning and architectural design, which focuses upon the influence of physical environments upon crime; and seconly, focused (situational) approaches, which rest on rational choice theory.
Basically, situational crime prevention aims to make it more difficult for criminals to carry out a crime and therefore stop the crime before it is committed. Social crime prevention relates to the prevention of some of the social and economic factors that might contribute to a person committing an offence.
This includes the prevention of a poor home environment/parenting; social and economic disadvantage; poor school attendance; early contact with the police and other authorities. Fundamentally, it is progressively being fixed as such youth programs are run to teach dispute resolution skills and social skills that will encourage potential offenders to make better choices about their actions and their futures.