What is a crime?

By: Peter R. Certo, Jr. Attorney at Law

A crime is anything a legislature says it is. For hundreds of years a crime was committed if someone had criminal intent or mens rea. That is, you had to intend to do something criminal, also known as malice aforethought. Crime was defined by the act, not the result. Now it seems more crimes are defined by the result, not the act.

Take a car accident. If you inadvertently drive through a stop sign and cause an accident. In most cases you simply get a ticket. But now if someone gets seriously injured, you might be looking at a criminal charge of vehicular assault or an aggravated vehicular assault depending on the injury. Instead of a simple ticket and a monetary fine, these are criminal charges which carry jail time. If the accident results in death, you might be facing manslaughter or homicide charges, This is a perfect example of the crime being defined by the result, not by the act. Two people can commit the exact same traffic violation, one goes home with a ticket, the other goes to jail. Why? Because the legislature says so. Legislators are wonderful at creating laws to gain publicity, but do not often consider the illogical effect of those laws. So you need to be very careful out there and if someone is injured in an accident you caused, you should not make any statements until you speak with an attorney.