Social Question

Dutchess_III's avatar

If a person breaks the law, does that automatically make them a criminal?

Asked by Dutchess_III (42474points) October 21st, 2014

As asked.

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23 Answers

janbb's avatar

Depends on the law. It probably does make them a lawbreaker by definition but not necessarily a criminal.

snowberry's avatar

In the US anyway, we have so many conflicting laws anymore that it’s not unusual to break one law while following another. I’ve heard of this happening, but don’t have any examples of it. I’m sure there are however.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Under what circumstances do you think it’s OK to break the law? (If somebody wants to turn that into a question, be my guest. I don’t want to run out my limit before noon here.)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

DMT, Dimethyltryptamine, is a schedule 1 drug. This “controlled substance” is also found in human pineal gland. We’re all carriers.

elbanditoroso's avatar

What is a criminal?

Legally, a criminal doesn’t exist until:
-he has been arrested and arraigned
-had a trial before judge/jury and was convicted
-was sentenced prison, money, etc)
-or did some sort of plea bargain

Now, the person may very well have done the bad deed, (white collar, civil, or criminal), but without the conviction, he isn’t a criminal. He may be a suspect or a likely criminal, but not th real thing.

Which goes back to my original question: what is a criminal? It’s almost existential. Does a criminal exist without the legal decision? Committing a crime doesn’t make you a criminal, legally,.

jca's avatar

And to piggyback on what @elbanditoroso said, to say “convicted felon” is to be redundant. A person is not a felon unless they’re convicted. It goes without saying that a felon has been convicted.

linguaphile's avatar

@jca There are situations where a person has been put into the system with “felony pending” with their name. They might be on probation for a felony and one of the agreements between the court system and the person is that once probation is satisfactorily served, their records will allow expungement or a reduction of charge.

When this happens—for the duration of the probation, they live with the consequences of being a felon (can’t find good apartments, can’t get many jobs, can’t travel freely, etc). Once their probation is served, the records change and their ability to access our social system comes back.

When someone says ‘convicted felon,’ I understand it to mean that it is permanently on their record and in the nationwide system.

There are several problems—there are 5 degrees of felonies, but our records do not differentiate between any of them. Possession of one ounce of weed in Minnesota is a misdemeanor while 1 pill of oxycodone is a felony.

On a personal level, I don’t see “convictions” as actual indicators of criminals. There are people who make mistakes due to lack of knowledge, lack of judgement, lack of autonomy—they make bad decisions but don’t come from a mindset of crime. They might have committed a crime, but I don’t think that automatically makes them criminals. I see criminals as people who repeatedly commit crimes with impunity to satisfy their own wants with no consideration for how their behavior affects others. They hurt others with no remorse.

I think many ‘criminals’ aren’t in jail, but are running boardrooms, businesses, classrooms, organizations, etc. There are malicious people out there destroying hopes and dreams of others through manipulation and deceit, and feel totally justified in doing so.

Our society just classifies people in a way that smoking weed is a crime, but telling a child that they’re never going anywhere isn’t.

kritiper's avatar

I would say only after they are convicted in a trial would they officially be a criminal.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I guess my question was more one of morality. A family is starving to death. The father, unable to find work, goes and robs food from a grocery store. Does that make him a criminal?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

By definition…yes. You may be really asking what makes someone a bad criminal vs a good criminal.

jca's avatar

@linguaphile: Yes, your details raise new issues I was not aware of. I was referring more to just general phrases, like “They found out that her ex boyfriend is a convicted felon!” In that case, “convicted felon” is a redundant phrase.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Not all laws are criminal laws. Therefore, we don’t even need to get into technicalities to see that the answer is unambiguously “no.” As to the moral question, I think the answer is also “no.” Not all laws are morally justifiable; therefore, it is not always morally wrong to break the law.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Once again, it’s a matter of perspective. A powerful argument can be made that it is the act of “getting caught” which renders one a criminal in today’s reality. But there are other definitions equally “legitimate”. There is the accelerating substitution of “criminal” for the former definition of “poor.” “Equal protection under the law” has been replaced by “The rich don’t do time.” Anyone doubting this conclusion has merely to consider the paucity of millionaires in our institutions. For that matter, the perpetrators of the greatest criminal conspiracy in the history of the world, effectively deprived the citizens of this country of ⅓ of their total net worth. The crime was revealed a scant 6 years ago, and not only did those responsible profit enormously in the “theft”, they have subsequently been further rewarded by the government they own for subjecting us to the fleecing. And not a one of them has been or is likely to ever be prosecuted, or for that matter, inconvenienced.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@stanleybmanly Sorry, but I can’t go in for that kind of relativism. The legal definition of a criminal is really straightforward. It’s anyone who has broken a criminal law. That one has not been caught in no way affects whether or not this description has been met. It only affects whether one is treated as a criminal. But being an x and being treated as an x are not the same thing. As this is a matter of basic logic, even the most thoroughgoing relativist ought to grant this.

It’s a little less straightforward for the moral argument. But no extant moral theory is in a position to hold that breaking the law automatically makes one culpable in a moral sense. The relativist is particularly unable to hold such a view. Indeed, saying “it’s a matter of perspective” logically requires one to give a negative answer to the title question.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@SavoirFaire – what if the law is, itself, illegal or unjust?

Dutchess_III's avatar

That speaks to the morality. Slavery laws, for example. The Quakers hid run away slaves and that was illegal. IMO, they weren’t criminals, but by law, they were.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@elbanditoroso I already addressed that in my first response. My response to @stanleybmanly is only a response to relativism. It’s not about my personal view.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@SavoirFaire If the question were about the “legal” definition of a criminal, I might see your point. Of course, if one commits a crime, he is by definition a criminal. It would be preposterous to assume that @Dutchess_III is unaware of this. I prefer to believe that she is asking something else. Stated simply, I took the question to be asking “Is criminal (like beauty) in the eye of the beholder? Let’s posit for the moment that the “beholder” is the state. Then the simple answer to Dutchess is no!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@stanleybmanly The question is ambiguous. That’s why I broke up my response into two parts: first, if we’re talking about the legal definition; second, if we’re talking about some moral notion. And while I agree that @Dutchess_III is surely aware of the legal technicality, not all of the answers were. Furthermore, your answer did not say which you were using; therefore, I gave a two-pronged response. It seems you have conceded the first (legal) prong.

It seems you have also conceded the second (moral) prong, however, since my point was that the answer to the question is “no” on all ways of disambiguating. Saying “it’s a matter of perspective” as you did, however, is not the same as saying “no.” Thus I pointed out that there was no need for your relativism in responding to the question. The answer is “no” even if it is not a matter of perspective. Pretty simple, really.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I ignored the legal definition from the outset. The reason the question is ambiguous and the answer “no” in all cases is PRECISELY because the legal definition conflicts with observable facts. Once you introduce the words “moral component”, it is difficult to evade the reality that the label “criminal” is a matter of perspective.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Only if you believe certain things about morality. Regardless, my point is that the answer turns out to be “no” regardless of perspective. That’s what you seem to be missing. Your first answer suggests that the answer could be yes or no depending on perspective, but this is false. All perspectives here lead to the answer that breaking the law does not automatically make one a criminal. It can’t from the relativist’s position, and no non-relativist position can consistently argue that laws are always moral. Thus all perspectives must answer “no.” Again, pretty simple.

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