Mala in se: Definition, Crimes & Examples

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  • 0:00 'Mala In Se' Defined
  • 1:25 'Malum In Se' vs.…
  • 3:05 Examples
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

In this lesson, we'll go over the definition of 'mala in se' crimes. We will also distinguish between these types of crimes and ''mala prohibita'' crimes. Finally, examples will be provided to better illustrate the concept of ''mala in se'' crimes.

Mala in se Defined

Not every crime is equal. For instance, robbing a bank is a very different crime than violating a traffic rule. Though both are technically against the law, these crimes still fall into two very distinct categories.

The first category constitutes the basis for the common law, or the system of law established by customs in England prior to the colonization of the United States. These are actions that are deemed evil because of the nature of the action and are well recognized as crimes even if a person has not read the law. Crimes like this are mala in se crimes - those which violate society's view of morality. Often these are more serious crimes, such as felonies, which can result in a prison sentence. An armed robbery would fall into this category.

The second category consists of crimes that are not inherently evil in themselves, but rather are crimes because they violate a law instituted in a particular society. These crimes are mala prohibita. A person may be unaware that he is committing a crime mala prohibita because those actions are not obviously wrong. For instance, someone unaware of certain traffic rules in a region might violate those rules without meaning to do so. Mala prohibita crimes are usually considered less serious and are often charged as misdemeanor crimes or infractions where prison is not a possible penalty.

Malum in Se vs. Malum Prohibitum

The vast majority of crimes are mala prohibita; cities, local municipalities, and states all have the ability to enact regulations, statutes and ordinances to create a safer and more orderly society. Mala in se crimes are more easily recognized. For example, children learn at a young age that they should not steal, hurt someone, or commit murder, no matter where they live.

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