Crimes and contraventions

Virtually all legal systems do categorize illegal offences in two or three degrees of seriousness. We propose a distinction between two classes of offences: crimes and contraventions.

Contraventions are light offences, i.e. things we do not want people to do but also we do not deem as serious as we feel it necessary to punish them severely. Think about littering or walking your dog unleashed in urban areas.

Crimes are the serious offences which really disrupts society and require a much tougher response. Think about murder, robbery or possession of explosives.

In our proposal we do not consider it necessary that people who have committed a contravention should get a criminal record. Therefore we are in favour of punishing contraventions with administrative sanctions (mostly fines). If the government, this would be in many cases the police, establishes you have been guilty of a contravention, you will get a fine. And if you disagree with this penalty you can bring the case to court.

Those who are suspected of crimes will stand trial in criminal court. If they are convicted they will get a criminal record, which will not happen to those who only commit contraventions. Further the penalties for crimes will be much more serious.

A further distinction between crimes and contraventions is that attempting or preparing a contravention will not be punishable, but attempt and preparation of a crime would be.

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2 thoughts on “Crimes and contraventions”

  1. It’s a good distinction. The devil is in the details, however. How specific offenses are categorized, and who is responsible for setting them, is determinative. Under U.S. federal law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal offense. From: http://norml.org/laws/item/federal-penalties-2

    “Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, the penalties increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.”

    These penalties defy public opinion which sees little to no offense. That they are set so is a testament to the often arbitrary nature of law enforcement which frequently reflects the influence of special interests rather than any legal objectivity or even the will of the people.

    1. >>How specific offenses are categorized, and who is responsible for setting them, is determinative.

      The categorization is a matter of law, and hence the legislature is responsible.

      >>which frequently reflects the influence of special interests rather than any legal objectivity or even the will of the people.

      The influence of special interest over legislation, which is an important concern for us, should be curtailed. Possibly law establishing offences should subjected to a public vote (referendum) and judicial review by the constitutional council should always be possible.

      >>Under U.S. federal law, simple marijuana possession is a criminal offense

      We are in favour of full legalization of marijuana and similar drugs.

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