Political crime

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In criminology, a political crime or political offence is an offence involving overt acts or omissions (where there is a duty to act), which prejudice the interests of the state, its government, or the political system. It is to be distinguished from state crime, in which it is the states that break both their own criminal laws or public international law. [1]

Contents

States will define as political crimes any behaviour perceived as a threat, real or imagined, to the state's survival, including both violent and non-violent oppositional crimes. A consequence of such criminalisation may be that a range of human rights, civil rights, and freedoms are curtailed, and conduct which would not normally be considered criminal per se (in other words, that is not antisocial according to those who engage in it) is criminalised at the convenience of the group holding power.

Thus, there may be a question of the morality of a law which simply criminalises ordinary political dissent, [2] even though the majority of those who support the current regime may consider criminalisation of politically motivated behaviour an acceptable response when the offender is driven by more extreme political, ideological, religious or other beliefs.

Overview

At one extreme, crimes such as treason, sedition, and terrorism are political because they represent a direct challenge to the government in power. Espionage is usually considered a political crime. [3] But offenders do not have to aim to overthrow the government or to depose its leaders to be acting in a way perceived as "political". A state may perceive it threatening if individuals advocate change to the established order, or argue the need for reform of long-established policies, or engage in acts signifying some degree of disloyalty, e.g. by burning the nation's flag in public. But the scope of such crimes can be rather less direct.

Structural functionist criminologists recognise that states invest their resources in maintaining order through social conformity, i.e. a particular culture is encouraged and maintained through the primary social discourses which may include religious, economic, social, or other less formal concerns. Any interference with the media of communication or the sets of meanings embedded in the communications themselves may be perceived as a threat to the political authority of the state. Hence, whether in hard copy or electronically, if individuals distribute material containing uncensored information which undermines the credibility of state-controlled news media, this may be considered threatening.

Moreover, even an offence against non-governmental institutions, persons, or practices may be deemed political. Violence or even discrimination against an ethnic or racial group, as well trade union strikes or picketing against private employers, can be perceived as a political crime when those in power see such conduct as undermining the political (and economic) stability of the state. In this context, note that the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct passed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police says in part: "The fundamental duties of a police officer include serving the community, safeguarding lives and property, protecting the innocent, keeping the peace and ensuring the rights of all to liberty, equality and justice" (cited in Robinson, 2002). This code requires that police behave in a courteous and fair manner, that they treat all citizens in a respectable and decent manner, and that they never use unnecessary force. When they do, it is argued that this constitutes a crime (e.g. as an assault) and, if it is institutionalised, then over time, the use of unnecessary force become a state crime.

Marxist criminologists argue that most political crime arises from the efforts of the state to reproduce the structures of inequality: racism, sexism, ethnic preference as well as class advantages. Thus, states will protect property rights and reduce the rights of trade unions to represent the interests of the poor. Even war could be grounded in the problems of local capitalists in wealthy countries in the effort to move raw materials, profits and jobs in a globalised political economy, and opposing such a war will be a political crime. Marxists do not dispute that, for a society to function efficiently, social order is necessary. But they consider that, in all societies, one class, usually characterised as the "ruling class", gains far more than other classes. Marxists agree with functionalists that socialisation plays a crucial role in promoting conformity and order. However, unlike the latter, they are highly critical of the ideas, values and norms of "capitalist ideology". Modern Marxists point to education and the media as socialising agencies, which delude or "mystify" the working class into conforming to a social order, which works against its real interests. Thus, all controls which directly or indirectly exploit the criminal law to control access to the discourses are political crimes.

Authoritarian governments

Miller says that one of the defining characteristics of power in modern history has been the rationalisation and bureaucratisation of law. Legal codification, or at least debates over the merits of legal codification, became an almost global phenomenon in the nineteenth century as state power was centralised. In particular, the rationalisation of criminal law standardised not just the concept of crime, but was adopted as the means to eliminate the "deviant" as a threat to a modern, uniform, moral standard. In this, the religious establishment began to play a new role in defining "evil" in which threats to the political or social norm became as dangerous as threats to religious orthodoxy. Thus, political speech became one of the most likely activities to be criminalised. The freedom of association and to meet may also be criminalised if the purpose is to express oppositional political views.

Because a political offender may be fighting against a tyrannical government, treaties have usually specified that a person cannot be extradited for a political offense. Thomas Jefferson wrote: [4]

Treason. This, when real, merits the highest punishment. But most Codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one's country. They do not distinguish between acts against the government, and acts against the Oppressions of the Government. The latter are virtues: yet have furnished more victims to the Executioner than the former. Because real Treasons are rare: Oppressions frequent. The unsuccessful Struggles against Tyranny have been the chief Martyrs of Treason laws in all countries. Reformation of government with our neighbors, as much wanting now as Reformation of religion is, or ever was anywhere. We should not wish then to give up to the Executioner the Patriot who fails, and flees to us. Treasons then, taking the simulated with the real are sufficiently punished by Exile.

Specific crimes

Terrorism

People convicted or suspected of certain crimes classified as terrorism by the government of their country (or some foreign countries) reject that classification. They consider that their fight is a legitimate one using legitimate means, and thus their crimes should be more appropriately called political crimes and justify special treatment in the penal system (as if they were soldiers in a war and therefore covered by the Geneva Convention). States tend to consider the political nature of the crimes an aggravating factor in the sentencing process and make no distinction between the terrorists and "ordinary" offenders, e.g. the convicted murderers of Action Directe consider themselves political prisoners.

Religious crimes

Where there is no clear separation between the state and the prevailing religion, the edicts of the church may be codified as law and enforced by the secular policing and judicial authorities. This is a highly functionalist mechanism for enforcing conformity in all aspects of cultural life and the use of the label "crime" adds an extra layer of stigma to those convicted.

Related Research Articles

Crime Illegal behavior defined by existing criminal law

In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term crime does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition, though statutory definitions have been provided for certain purposes. The most popular view is that crime is a category created by law; in other words, something is a crime if declared as such by the relevant and applicable law. One proposed definition is that a crime or offence is an act harmful not only to some individual but also to a community, society, or the state. Such acts are forbidden and punishable by law.

Treason Crime of betraying ones country

Treason is the crime of attacking a state authority to which one owes allegiance. This typically includes acts such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison either for the rest of their natural lives or until pardoned, paroled or otherwise commuted to a fixed term. Crimes for which, in some countries, a person could receive this sentence include murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, apostasy, terrorism, severe child abuse, rape, child rape, espionage, treason, high treason, drug dealing, drug trafficking, drug possession, human trafficking, severe cases of fraud, severe cases of financial crimes, aggravated criminal damage in English law, and aggravated cases of arson, kidnapping, burglary, or robbery which result in death or grievous bodily harm, piracy, aircraft hijacking, and in certain cases genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, certain war crimes or any three felonies in case of three-strikes law. Life imprisonment can also be imposed, in certain countries, for traffic offenses causing death. Life imprisonment is not used in all countries; Portugal was the first country to abolish life imprisonment, in 1884.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to criminal justice:

An ex post facto law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of actions that were committed, or relationships that existed, before the enactment of the law. In criminal law, it may criminalize actions that were legal when committed; it may aggravate a crime by bringing it into a more severe category than it was in when it was committed; it may change the punishment prescribed for a crime, as by adding new penalties or extending sentences; or it may alter the rules of evidence in order to make conviction for a crime likelier than it would have been when the deed was committed.

<i>Criminal Code</i> (Canada) Comprehensive criminal law of Canada

The Criminal Code is a law that codifies most criminal offences and procedures in Canada. Its official long title is An Act respecting the criminal law, and it is sometimes abbreviated as Cr.C. in legal reports. Section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867 establishes the sole jurisdiction of Parliament over criminal law in Canada.

Articles related to criminology and law enforcement.

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Under the Constitution of Finland, everyone is entitled to have their case heard by a court or an authority appropriately and without undue delay. This is achieved through the judicial system of Finland.

Criminal jurisdiction is a term used in constitutional law and public law to describe the power of courts to hear a case brought by a state accusing a defendant of the commission of a crime. It is relevant in three distinct situations:

  1. to regulate the relationship between states, or between one state and another;
  2. where the nation is a federation, to regulate the relationship between the federal courts and the domestic courts of those states comprising the federation; and
  3. where a state only has, to a greater or lesser extent, a single and unified system of law, it is the law of criminal procedure to regulate what cases each classification of court within the judicial system shall adjudicate upon. People must be tried in the same state the crime is committed.
Criminalization Process of categorising acts as crimes

Criminalization or criminalisation, in criminology, is "the process by which behaviors and individuals are transformed into crime and criminals". Previously legal acts may be transformed into crimes by legislation or judicial decision. However, there is usually a formal presumption in the rules of statutory interpretation against the retrospective application of laws, and only the use of express words by the legislature may rebut this presumption. The power of judges to make new law and retrospectively criminalise behaviour is also discouraged. In a less overt way, where laws have not been strictly enforced, the acts prohibited by those laws may also undergo de facto criminalization through more effective or committed legal enforcement. The process of criminalization takes place through societal institutions including schools, the family, and the criminal justice system.

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State crime

In criminology, state crime is activity or failures to acts that break the state's own criminal law or public international law. For these purposes, Ross (2000b) defines a "state" as the elected and appointed officials, the bureaucracy, and the institutions, bodies and organisations comprising the apparatus of the government. Initially, the state was the agency of deterrence, using the threat of punishment as a utilitarian tool to shape the behaviour of its citizens. Then, it became the mediator, interpreting society's wishes for conflict resolution. Theorists then identified the state as the "victim" in victimless crimes. Now, theorists are examining the role of the state as one of the possible perpetrators of crime whether directly or in the context of state-corporate crime.

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Crime in New Zealand encompasses criminal law, crime statistics, the nature and characteristics of crime, sentencing, punishment, and public perceptions of crime. New Zealand criminal law has its origins in English criminal law, which was codified into statute by the New Zealand parliament in 1893. Although New Zealand remains a common law jurisdiction, all criminal offences and their penalties are codified in New Zealand statutes.

Common law offences are crimes under English criminal law and the related criminal law of other Commonwealth countries. They are offences under the common law, developed entirely by the law courts, and therefore have no specific basis in statute.

Capital punishment in Macau

Capital punishment in Macau was formally abolished in 1976 and reiterated in the Penal Code of Macau in the 1995.

The Council of Europe Convention on the Counterfeiting of Medical Products and Similar Crimes involving Threats to Public Health is an international criminal law convention of the Council of Europe addressing the falsification of medicines and medical devices.

The state of Ireland asserts universal jurisdiction and extraterritorial jurisdiction in various situations. Ireland has universal jurisdiction for murder and manslaughter committed by its citizens. This dates from at least 1829, retained by the Offences against the Person Act 1861, as adapted in 1973.

A political offence exception is a provision which limits the obligation of a sovereign state under an extradition or mutual legal assistance treaty or statute. Such provisos allow the state whose assistance has been requested to refuse to hand over a suspect to — or to gather evidence on behalf of — another state, if the requested party's competent authority determines that the requesting party seeks assistance in order to prosecute an offence of a political character.

Sexual consent plays an important role in laws regarding rape, sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. In a court of law, whether or not the alleged victim had freely given consent, and whether or not they were deemed to be capable of giving consent, can determine whether the alleged perpetrator is guilty of rape, sexual assault or some other form of sexual misconduct.

References

  1. Ross, 2000.
  2. Ross, 2004.
  3. "Sweden: extradition of US spy suspect 'unlikely'". The Local . 27 April 2013. 'If it's a political offence, you can't extradite a person' to a country outside the EU, said Per Clareus, a spokesman for Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. 'And espionage is usually considered a political crime,' he added.
  4. Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Correspondence.