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What is a crime and how do we divide crimes?

Most of us probably have a general understanding of what a crime is. “Murder or theft” would be a possible answer. But did you know that theft can also be a simple misdemeanor that doesn’t even register on a criminal record? And do you know that the criminal record is also a government office? We looked at the offenses, their divisions, and statutes of limitations in our article.

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Chapters of the article

What do we call a crime?

Only those unlawful acts that are designated as criminal by law may be designated as a criminal offence. They cannot be so defined by the police, a judge or anyone else. The Criminal Law then enumerates the various offences and sets out the specific characteristics they must meet.

We distinguish the term‘otherwise punishable act’ from the concept of a criminal offence. We understand it as an act which is unpunishable in a given case, although it would otherwise be punishable. An otherwise criminal act may be committed, for example, by an insane person or by a juvenile who lacks the requisite mental maturity.

Offences should also be distinguished from criminal offences, which may in some cases be of a similar nature but are less dangerous to society. The difference between a misdemeanour and a criminal offence may be determined by a very specific threshold – for example, in the case of theft, the value of the stolen goods is less than CZK 10 000.

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Division of offences

The law divides offences into misdemeanours and felonies. They are distinguished according to the form of fault(negligence or intent) and the length of the prison sentence (up to five years or more). Misdemeanours are regarded as less serious offences. The category of particularly serious crime refers to offences with a maximum penalty of at least ten years’ imprisonment.

A further classification of offences can be made according to the developmental stages of the offence. We distinguish between offences in the stage of preparation, attempted or completed.

We have dealt with criminal law in the article on criminal procedure.

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Classification of offences according to the interest that is protected

The Criminal Code itself also divides criminal offences according to the importance of the interest being protected. We thus distinguish:

  • offencesagainst life and health (typically offences of murder, manslaughter or bodily harm),
  • offences against liberty and the right to protection of personality, privacy and sec recy (e.g. offences of robbery, extortion or defamation),
  • offencesagainst human dignity in the sexual sphere (e.g. sexual abuse or rape),
  • offences against thefamily and children (e.g. neglect or abuse of a ward),
  • property crimes (e.g. theft or fraud),
  • economic crimes (e.g. counterfeiting of money or tax evasion),
  • offences ofgeneral danger (e.g. general endangerment or the offence of endangerment under the influence of a substance, which includes, for example, driving under the influence of alcohol),
  • environmental off ences (e.g. damage to the environment, damage to a water source or cruelty to animals),
  • offencesagainst the Czech Republic, a foreign state and an international organisation (e.g. treason or terrorist attack),
  • offencesagainst public order (e.g. abuse of authority of an official, approval of a criminal offence or the offence of dangerous stalking, also known as stalking),
  • offencesagainst conscription (e.g. failure to comply with conscription or failure to enlist in the armed forces),
  • military offences (e.g. disobeying an order or violence against a superior),
  • crimes against humanity, against peace and war crimes (e.g. genocide or sympathising with a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms).

Classification of crimes in terms of time

From the point of view of time, we distinguish crimes:
collective – for certain crimes, a large number of similar acts are required (e.g. in the case of illegal arming, it is not enough to produce a weapon once, but to do so repeatedly)
continuing offences – here the offence is one of maintaining an unlawful state of affairs, not merely of creating it for a short period of time (e.g. a lock-up in a school cloakroom for several seconds, made as a joke, would not be characterised as a restriction of personal liberty)
continuation of the offence – the offence is repeated over a longer period of time, but it is still the same offence and there is a common intention. An example of a continuing offence would be, for example, embezzlement, where an employee repeatedly “embezzles” a certain amount from the employer’s account.

Signs of a criminal offence

One of the formal elements of a criminal offence is the facts of the offence. It is actually a set of certain features that specify the different types of crimes and distinguish them from each other. We are talking about the object of the offence (it is a certain interest that the law protects – see the above-mentioned division of offences according to the object), the objective aspect (it is primarily the act and the consequence and the connection between them), the perpetrator of the offence (in general, it can be anyone criminally responsible, unless the law provides for a special characteristic of the perpetrator – e.g. an official person) and the subjective aspect (the relationship of the perpetrator to his/her act, its characteristic is culpability).

If the act does not have all these features, it is not a criminal offence. Occasionally, some offences may have other necessary elements, such as a specific place (in public) or time of the act (e.g. during a state of emergency).

However, a person’s actions may sometimes appear to meet the elements of a particular offence (e.g. battery), but there are circumstances which will preclude its unlawfulness. Such a circumstance in this case could be a necessary defence.

We have discussedthe principles and rules of criminal procedure in a separate article.

Statute of limitations on the offence

In some cases, the conduct meets all of the elements that the law requires for the offense and yet the offense is not or cannot be punished in any way. This happens if too much time has passed since the crime was committed. The law speaks of a statute of limitations on criminal liability, which applies to all offences except those specifically enumerated by law. These include, for example, denying genocide or expressing sympathy for a movement that suppresses human rights and freedoms.

Tip: Learn what to do if your basic human rights are violated .

The main reason why the statute of limitations is approached is that it is appropriate in terms of the effect of the sentence to impose it as soon as possible after the commission of the offence. This is compounded ii by the difficulty of proving the case in the case of long-standing events. However, it is necessary to distinguish how serious the offence was. Certainly one cannot ‘pardon’ shoplifting and grievous bodily harm at the same time.

Different offences therefore have different limitation periods. And different statutes of limitations can be found even within the same offense. Thus, we cannot speak generally of a “statute of limitations for murder“. In this case, it would be necessary to distinguish whether, for example, the murder was of a pregnant woman, for which the law allows the imposition of an exceptional penalty and the limitation period would thus be thirty years. If there is no similar aggravating circumstance (and the offence is therefore a crime with a limit of at least ten years), then the limitation period is fifteen years. The law further provides for a limitation period of ten, five and three years for various offences depending on their gravity.

Where are the penalties recorded?

In addition to the specific court file, individual sentences are also entered in the criminal record. The criminal record is both a government office and a well-known record in which it is possible to find out when a person was convicted, by which court and under which file number. It also shows for which offences he was tried and what sentence was imposed or when it was carried out. However, the criminal record is not public, and only legally defined entities (typically courts and police) and the person to whom the record relates may request an extract from it.

When is a criminal record erased?

If there has already been a conviction and a criminal record, probably few people brag about it and try to keep it quiet. However, there are situations where someone can legitimately ask you for a criminal record. For example, an employer to do a certain type of work.

Again, we have to look at the seriousness of the offence to determine the period of time after which the record can be removed.

  • After 1 year from the end of the sentence, if she has been placed under house arrest, banned, fined, banned from various events, forfeiture of property or possessions.
  • After 3 years from the end of the sentence, which was no longer than 1 year.
  • 5 years after the end of a sentence which was longer than 1 year.
  • 10 years after the end of a sentence which was more than 5 years.
  • 15 years after the end of an exceptional sentence.

You can then apply for a ‘commutation of sentence’. The application must be made to the court with jurisdiction over your place of residence. The court examines whether the person whose criminal record has been expunged is not in trouble with the law and is living a proper and orderly life.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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