Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Crime. A criene is a public wrong, that is, a wrong done to the community at large (as distinguished from a tort or wrong done to an individual). and comprehends all acts amounting to treason, felony, or misdemeanor. The distinction of public wrongs from private - of crimes from civil injuries - seems upon examination chiefly to consist in this, that private wrongs or civil injuries are an infringement or privation of the civil rights, which belong to individuals considered merely as individuals, while public wrongs, that is, crimes and misdemeanors, are a violation of the same rights considered with reference to their effect on the community in its aggregate capacity. As if A detains a field from another man B, to which the law las given him a right, that is a civil injury and not a crime, for here only the right of an individual is concerned; and it is immaterial to the public which of them is in possession of the land. But treason, murder, and robbery are properly ranked among crimes, since, besides the injury done to individuals, they strike at the very root of society, which cannot properly exist where acts of this sort are suffered with impunity. In all cases crime includes an injury, that is, every public offence is also a private wrong, for while it affects the individual, it affects also the community. Thus, treason in imagining the sovereign's death involves in it conspiracy against an individual, which is also a civil injury, but as this species of treason in its consequences principally tends to the dissolution of government and the destruction thereby of the order and peace of society, this raises it to a crime of the highest magnitude. Murder is an injury to the life of an individual, but the law of society considers principally the loss which the State sustains by being deprived of a member, and the pernicious example thereby set to others. Robbery is an injury to private property, but were that all, a civil satisfaction in damages might atone for it. The public mischief is the thing for the prevention of which our laws make it a felony. In these gross and atrocious injuries the private wrong is absorbed in the public, and that is why we seldom find any mention made of satisfaction to the individual in such cases, the satisfaction required by the community being so great. But there are crimes of a lower kind, in which the public punishment is not so severe, such as battery or assault, in which the aggressor may either be indicted and punished by fine and imprisonment for disturbing the public peace, or the injured party may have his private remedy by a civil action for damages. So in the case of a public nuisance as digging a ditch across a highway, this is also punishable by indictment; and if any individual sustains special damage thereby as by laming his horse, breaking his carriage, etc., the offender may be compelled to make ample satisfaction as well for the private injury as for the public wrong. And thus the law has a double view in its cognisance of wrongs, viz. to redress the party injured by restoring to him his right, or by giving him an equivalent, and to provide for the public benefit by preventing or punishing every breach or violation of those laws, which the sovereign power has thought fit to establish for the government and tranquillity of the State.