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A crime is understood to be a serious violation of the legal order of a society or the basic rules of human coexistence. Generally speaking, it is an infringement of a legal asset that is regarded by the community as an injustice and classified as criminal by its legislature and is threatened with punishment through the criminal act culpably committed by one or more perpetrators .

In jurisprudence , too, primarily understands a crime to be the criminal act (criminal offense) itself and as such. From a social science perspective, criminology deals with the phenomenon of crime and its manifestations and causes. Criminalistics deals with the means and methods of fighting and investigating crime .

In the originating from the French legal system of the offenses, as in most continental European criminal justice systems used in different modified form, is the crime (fr. Crime ) the most serious form of criminal offense and is in this perspective, the offense (fr. délit ) as a less serious criminal offense .

Particularly serious (originally: punishable with the loss of life) crimes are also referred to as capital crimes (from Latin caput = "head").

Historical classification

The differentiation between criminal acts of varying severity is documented very early in legal history. Already in the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina a distinction was made between causae maiores and causae minores (serious and minor charges); this separation was decisive for the form of punishment: life, physical and honor punishments or fines and short-term imprisonment .

The German Reich Criminal Code (RStGB) of 1871 differentiated between three levels of severity of the offense: crime, misdemeanor and violation . It was based on the French Code Pénal Impérial (1810), created under Napoleon , whose tripartite division ( crime - délit - contravention ) determines French criminal law and the systems closely related to French (e.g. Belgium ) to this day. The type of punishment depended on the assignment of the offense to one of the three categories ; for crime u could. They may be sentenced to death or imprisonment , offenses were punished with imprisonment and violations usually only with a fine or short imprisonment .

With the criminal law reform of 1974/75 in the Federal Republic of Germany, this trichotomy (division into three) was replaced by the dichotomy (division into two) that is decisive today : Since then, only crimes and offenses have been criminal offenses. The violations have been abolished and partly replaced by administrative offenses . Penalties such as penitentiary or prison were also abolished and a uniform prison sentence was created, whereby crimes can now also be atoned for by fines. Whether this dichotomy should be retained is controversial among criminal lawyers, as its practical importance is relatively small.

In some legal systems there is no or no longer a distinction between crime and misdemeanor. For example, in the criminal laws of Italy , Spain and the Netherlands, which were also developed on the basis of the French model, violations ( contravvenzioni , faltas or overtredingen ) still exist for minor offenses, but all other offenses are uniformly classified as "offenses" or "offenses" ( delitti , delitos or misdrijven ). Nevertheless, serious and less serious facts are also assigned to corresponding sub-categories. In most jurisdictions of the common law , there is the distinction between serious or "capitals" crimes ( felonies ) and less serious criminal offenses ( misdemeanors ), although the actual term "crime" ( crime ) is used in English as a generic term and systematic rather the " Criminal offense ”as such.

Formal concept of crime

In Germany

Crime for counterfeiting money and putting
counterfeit or counterfeit banknotes into circulation on DM banknotes

In German criminal law, according to Section 12 (1) of the Criminal Code (StGB), all legally standardized offenses that are threatened with at least one year imprisonment are assessed as a crime . (e.g. robbery , bodily harm resulting in death, serious arson , serious sexual abuse , perversion of the law ).

Offenses with the threat of a lower minimum penalty are referred to as offenses in accordance with Section 12 (2) StGB .

If, in special cases, a minimum sentence of one year or more is provided for an offense, the act remains an offense; The same applies vice versa ( Section 12 Paragraph 3 StGB). Irrelevant or unnamed tightening or mitigating penalties are those for which the requirements for the modification are not or at least not conclusively evident from the law. The same applies to standard examples . This means that the minimum effective sentence for a crime can be less than a year and that of an offense can exceed a year. The classification can, however, change if the law creates a new offense by adding further features (named changes to penalties).

The difference between crime and misdemeanor also affects the criminal liability of an attempted act , which is always punishable in the case of crimes in accordance with Section 23 (1) StGB, but only in the case of misdemeanors if it is expressly specified in the law (attempted trespassing is therefore e.g. B. not punishable). The attempt is incitement to commit a crime punishable, but not to a misdemeanor. The difference is also important for the criminal offense of threat ( Section 241 of the Criminal Code), which can only be realized with the threat of a crime, not a misdemeanor.

According to Section 45 (1) of the Criminal Code, the distinction between crime and misdemeanor also plays a role in the loss of capacity to act and eligibility .

The division of criminal offenses into crimes and offenses also has consequences under criminal procedure law , for example for determining the substantive jurisdiction of the courts . Furthermore, a defendant who is accused of a crime is always entitled to the appointment of a public defender according to Section 140 (1) No. 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO) if he does not appoint a lawyer as defense counsel .

The penalty order is only provided for offenses ( § 407 StPO), and a suspension of the proceedings according to § 153 , § 153a , § 154d StPO is not possible in the case of crimes.

In Austria

According to Section 17 of the Austrian Criminal Code (classification of criminal acts), crimes are "intentional acts that are threatened with a life sentence or a prison sentence of more than three years" ( Section 17 StGB); all other criminal acts are offenses . In contrast to the German regulation, attempting and determining (“inciting”) an offense are also punishable in Austria . Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the courts is regulated differently.

In Switzerland

The Swiss Penal Code (as of January 2010) defines crimes as acts that are threatened with imprisonment of more than three years ( Art. 10, Paragraph 2, StGB). Offenses are acts that are threatened with up to three years imprisonment or a fine (Art. 10 para. 3 StGB).

Attempting to commit a crime or misdemeanor is also punishable ( Art. 22 Para. 1 StGB). The decisive factor here is the “point of no return” - the last decisive step from which there is no turning back. The subjective fact must be fulfilled in exactly the same way as with the completed offense. The "attempt out of gross misunderstanding", in which the means used by the perpetrator are not suitable for achieving the desired result, is excluded from punishment; or if the offense cannot be committed at all on the object attacked by the perpetrator (Art. 22 para. 2 StGB).

Finally, violations are acts that are threatened with penance ( Art. 103 StGB). Attempts (and assistance) are only punishable in cases expressly specified by law ( Art. 105 (2) StGB).

Material concept of crime

The substantive concept of crime breaks away from the normative requirements of criminal law. It is therefore less sharply circumscribed and delimited compared to the formal definition of crime. For the classification of an act as a crime are u. a. the following criteria are important.

Crime content under natural law

In natural law a distinction is made between morally reprehensible offenses ( mala in se ) and simply forbidden offenses ( mala prohibita ). This distinction of natural and merely conventional crime plays in the criminal of thinking common law today a significant role. However, the "natural" concept of crime is controversial in dogmatics because of the inherent danger of arbitrariness and the inherent subjectivity .

Doctrine of legal interests

The legal doctrine of legal interests describes acts as crimes that are capable of violating protected legal interests in a punishable manner. Legal interests are the legally protected individual interests of the participants in legal transactions . This term of crime related to legal interests is narrower than the natural term of crime and is linked to the normative foundations of a legal system (society). It is therefore quite close to the formal definition of crime.

Doctrine of socially harmful behavior

The term antisocial behavior comes from the social sciences and is defined in the context of socially inappropriate or deviant behavior ( deviance ). The resulting concept of crime is based on a sociological understanding of the actions of the individual in society and includes findings from criminology to a particularly high degree. In order to provide a manageable concept of crime, however, this approach also needs a normative basis.

The interactionist concept of crime

In the meantime, a so-called "interactionist concept of crime" has also become established in criminology . This defines acts as crimes that are treated appropriately by law enforcement agencies and society. A special feature here is that undiscovered crimes do not fall under this term, as there is no sanction against them due to a lack of knowledge.


The following criminal offenses apply in Germany:

criminal code

§ StGB designation Minimum sentence / years Maximum sentence / years Consequence of death
§ 81 High treason against the federal government 10
§ 82 Treason against a country 1 10
§ 83 Preparing a treasonous
company against the federal government
1 10
Section 94 Treason 1 15th
Section 96 Country Revealing spying 1 10
Section 100 Relationships endangering peace,
severe case, usually the state is in danger of survival
Section 105 Coercion of constitutional organs 1 10
§ 129a Formation of and membership in terrorist organizations 1 10
§ 146 Commercial and gang counterfeiting
§ 152b Forgery of payment cards with a guarantee function and forms for euro checks for
commercial purposes and in a gang
Section 154 perjury 1 15th
Section 176a Serious child sexual abuse 1 or 2 15th 10-∞ § 176b
Section 177 Sexual coercion, rape 1,2,3 or 5 15th 10-∞ § 178
Section 211 murder
Section 212 homicide 5
§ 226 Serious assault 1 10 3–15, less sw. 1-10 § 227
§ 226a Female genital mutilation 1 15th
§ 234 Kidnapping 1 10
§ 234a Procrastination 1 15th
§ 239a Extortionate kidnapping 5 15th 10-∞
§ 239b hostage taking 5 15th 10-∞
§ 244 Home burglary 1 10
§ 244a Serious gang theft 1 10
§ 249 robbery 1 15th 10-∞ § 251
§ 250 Heavy robbery 3 or 5 15th as well
§ 252 Predatory theft 1 15th 10-∞
§ 255 Predatory extortion 1 15th
§ 260a Commercial gang stealing 1 10
Section 306 Arson 1 10 10-∞ § 306c
Section 306a Serious arson 1 15th as well
Section 306b Particularly serious arson 2 or 5 15th as well
Section 307 Making an explosion using nuclear energy 5 or 1 15 or 10 10-∞ or 5–15
Section 308 Causing an explosive explosion 1 or 2 15th 10-∞
Section 309 Misuse of ionizing rays 1 or 2 or 5 10 or 15 10-∞
Section 310 Preparation for a nuclear explosion crime 1 10
§ 313 Causing a flood 1 or 2 10 or 15 10-∞
§ 314 Public poisoning 1 or 2 10 or 15 10-∞
Section 316a Predatory attack on motorists 5 15th 10-∞
Section 316c Attacks on air and sea transport 5 15th 10-∞
Section 335 Particularly serious cases of corruption and bribery 1 10
Section 339 Perversion of the law 1 5
§ 343 Extortion 1 10
Section 344 Persecution of the innocent 1 10
§ 345 Enforcement against the innocent 1 10

International criminal law

Subsidiary Penal Laws

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Henning Radtke in: Munich Commentary on the Criminal Code, 4th edition 2020, §12 Rn. 14th
  2. Bernd Hecker in: Schönke / Schröder Criminal Code, 30th edition 2019, Rn. 10.
  3. Martin Heger in Lackner / Kühl, StGB, 29th edition 2018, § 12 Rn. 3.
  4. Black, HC; Nolan, JM; Nolan-Haley, JM (1990) Black's law dictionary (6th edition). St. Paul. MN: West
  5. Singelnstein, Tobias: Criminology A foundation . 7. basic revised Edition Uni-Taschenbücher GmbH., Bern, ISBN 978-3-8252-4683-9 .

Web links

Wiktionary: crime  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations