Crimes and Torts: Breaking Rules that Violate Law

crime scene tape

Definition of a Crime

Crime can be defined as the breach or breaking of one or more rules or laws for which some governing authority deems as unlawful. While every crime violates the law, not every violation of the law counts as a crime. For example, breaches of contract and of other civil law may rank as “offenses” or as “infractions” but are not considered to be a crime.

The label of “crime” and the accompanying social stigma normally confine their scope to those activities considered to be harmful to the general population or to the state, including crimes that cause serious loss or damage to individuals.

 Some Other Definitions of Crime:

  • An act punishable by law; usually considered an evil act
  • A specific act committed in violation of the law
  • An act in violation of the penal laws of a state or the United States. A positive or negative act in violation of penal law.
  • is defined as any act, default, or conduct prejudicial to the community, the commission of which, by law, renders the person responsible liable to punishment by a fine, imprisonment, or other penalty.

Tort Crimes and Punishment in Criminal Law

A tort is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general.

The term “tort” is derived from the Latin word “tortum” which means crooked or something twisted. The acts of nuisance, negligence, defamation, assault , trespass, property damage are considered to be torts. Some are also considered to be crimes and are punishable with imprisonment. The primary goal of this law is to provide the victim with the relief from the damages and to serve as an example to deter others from committing this type of crime. In case of the tort the injured person may also be sued for monetary damages and injunction to prevent the tortuous act. In addition, the injured party may recover some kind of damages like reasonable medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss or earnings during that period.

Torts can be generally classified into three categories:

  • Intentional– In this case, an act is done intentionally to harm someone. In this situation, the defendant is aware, or should have been reasonably aware, that the action or inaction could prove to be harmful to others.
  • Negligent– These normally occur when the actions of the defendant are considered to be unsafe.
  • Strict Liability– These types of torts generally apply to defective products.

Though many acts can be considered to be both torts and crimes, prosecutions for crime are mostly the responsibility of the state, private prosecutions are rarely used; whereas any party who has been injured may bring a lawsuit for tort.

In tort law it is important for the plaintiff to show that harm has been caused. Someone who commits a tortious act is known as a tortfeasor. The equivalent of tort in civil law jurisdictions is delict.

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.


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