Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What is a Crime?

What is a crime? It's an interesting question, which becomes more and more vague the longer we let politicians run the place. As the government push through more and more laws that criminalise various different activities, I started to consider what I would consider a crime.

I have been known to quote Robert Heinlein and this little statement about sin:
'Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful - just stupid).'
Which I think is a good starting place. The key thing of course being that someone must be hurt for a thing to be a crime (of course, for the good of social cohesion, you need to consider cases where it is simply planned that someone be hurt - I'll go into that below). If you do something that causes no harm to anyone other than yourself (or only causes harm to willing consenting people) then it should not be considered a crime.

The most simple kind of crime to quantify and identify is theft. Depriving someone of something that is theirs without their willing consent (buying something from someone is fine, that's a trade - and taking something that they want to give away is fine). If you steal something then destroy it, it's still a crime even if it gains you no benefit, because you have still deprived the victim of whatever it was that you stole and destroyed. This should apply to all manner of things, not just physical items. Theft of liberty (currently called kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment), theft of consent (rape), etc.

So we make the first law:
1) Thou shalt not deprive another of something that is theirs in the form that they wish to have it, whatever that thing may be, unless they consent to your taking it or changing it and are in sound mind when doing so. (aka no stealing)

Sound mind would of course be largely interpretational. Someone who's had a drink or two should still be capable of judgement, someone who is passed out and under the table is not.

Let's look at some examples of what this would mean:
Vandalism - you are either breaking something or changing it in a manner not desired by the owner, thus depriving them of it as they want it. Thus, this would be a crime.
Assault - you're depriving someone of health, looks, blood. This would be a crime.
Rape - as mentioned above, this is depriving someone of the ability to consent (or of the right to say no). This would be a crime.
Murder - depriving someone of life - definitely a crime.
Accepting Charity - someone is being deprived of their money/goods/whatever, but they are giving it up willingly, so there is no crime.
Assisting a Suicide - provided that the person is willing to die and in their right mind, this is not a crime as the person who is losing their life is willing and consenting - of course you'd want to make sure that you had plenty of evidence/witnesses so you can demonstrate that they were willing
Posession of Drugs - the only person being harmed by this is you - this would not be a crime. Bear in mind that you are still 100% responsible for your actions while under the effects of the drugs, so could easily get into trouble as a result of this.
Sale of Drugs - again, not a crime. If people want to take drugs, there's no reason to stop them. As long as they are aware that they are fully responsible for anything that happens as a result. Of course, if you've cut the drugs with something harmful and don't tell people this then you're causing them harm, and they're not fully aware, so you would still get in trouble for supplying poor quality drugs.
Sale of Drugs cut with something harmful - unless the buyers are fully aware of what you've done here and are willing to risk their life with these dodgy drugs, this will cause harm - and so is a crime. If you tell them it's cut with bad stuff and they're still willing to take it, then it's ok - but as with the assisted suicide, you might want some sort of evidence.
Drunk Driving - this does not directly cause harm. As a result, this would not be a crime - but any harm that is caused as a result would be fully prosecuted (rather than having the silly rules now where killing someone with a car gets you a fine and a suspended sentence, whereas killing someone by accident can get you 5 years in jail).

I'd imagine a lot of people are going to look over that list and dispute some of those cases. I'm not quite finished yet, though...

The rule above covers most things that I would consider to be crimes, but it does miss a few. What if you plan a murder, but are caught before you can pull the trigger? Technically, you've committed no crime as yet, but you clearly intended to. If it can be demonstrated that you planned and would have carried out a crime, then you should be charged as if you had carried it out. This would have to be very carefully treated though, I'm reminded of a case in the US where a schoolboy was arrested for terrorism because he'd made a doom or quake map based on his school, and modded the monsters so that they looked like the teachers. He never planned to actually shoot them, but enjoyed pretending to. No harm done to anyone, so why was this a crime?

So, the rule should probably be something like:

1) Thou shalt not deprive another of something that is theirs in the form that they wish to have it (or attempt to do so), whatever that thing may be, unless they consent to your taking it or changing it and are in sound mind when doing so.

It's a little long winded, but relatively simple (as compared to the literally thousands of laws currently on the books)...

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