Nature of Crime: Crimes are actions governed by criminal law and criminal laws reflect the moral and ethical beliefs of the society. This is to say that criminal wrongs and moral wrongs are related yet distinct in their similarity. For example, murder is not only forbidden by the criminal law but also by the moral law.
Therefore, the proposition that crime is a moral wrong may have this measure of truth. Despite these similarities, there are still elements of distinction between a criminal wrong and a moral wrong. For instance, a crime of strict liability can be committed without moral wrong.
And a crime is being taken care of by a court with punishment attached to it while a moral wrong is only subject to public scrutiny without any specified punishment for such wrong. Another is, where there is a legal duty to do what is legal, there is no legal duty to do what is morally right.
This was so held in the case of ALIMI AKANNI AND ORS V. R. where a group of young men watched an old lady die without volunteering to help rescue her from burning fire, the moral deviants were freed from legal sanction in spite of the moral depravity of their conduct.
There is also a relationship between a tortuous wrong and a criminal wrong in the sense that in every tort and in every crime, there is always a wrongdoing and one act can
constitute both crime and tort, for instance, murder, false imprisonment and assault all carry both tortuous and criminal liability.
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There is further overlap between a crime and a tort under section 261 of the criminal procedure law of Lagos State, which provides that where in a charge of stealing or receiving stolen property, the court is of the opinion that the evidence is insufficient to support the charge but that it establishes wrongful conversion or detention of property, the court may order that such property be restored, and may also award damages. Despite the above mentioned similarities, a tort is different from a crime in the following ways:
a) Tort being a civil action is governed by civil procedure and is heard in the civil courts (county court or the High Court of Justice); while criminal prosecutions are governed by a different form of procedure and are tried in the criminal courts.
b)The object of criminal prosecution is to punish a person who has been duly tried and convicted of a criminal offence. The purpose of an action in the civil courts is to obtain compensation for the loss sustained by the plaintiff.
c) While the standard of proof in a criminal action is beyond reasonable doubt; the standard of proof in tort is on the balance of probabilities.
d)A crime is an offence against the society; while a tort is a wrong against a particular individual.
For the prosecution to obtain a conviction, they must prove the existence of all elements of a crime which elements are that:Under the Nigeria Jurisprudence, an act cannot amount to a crime if it is unknown to any written law operational in Nigeria at the time the act was committed. This point of law was further buttressed by Aderemi J.C.A. in the case of IFEGWU V. F.R.N.where he stated that it is sacrosanct that no person shall be liable to be tried or punished in any court of the land except under the clear and unambiguous provisions of a written law
. Hence, where a person commits an act detrimental to the state or an individual and such act is not recognized by any written law of the land, such an act, though wrong does not constitute a crime and such a person cannot be sued in any court of the land. In addition, the actus reus must correspond with the mens rea. This is embedded in the latin maxim- “actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea” which means- an act does not make a person legally guilty unless the mind is legally blame worthy.
a) He has caused a certain event or that responsibility is to be attributed to him for the existence of a certain state of affairs, which is forbidden by criminal law; and
b)He has a defined state of mind in relation to the causing of the event or the existence of the state of affairs. For instance, if ‘P’ killed ‘D’, it is clear that he has caused an actus reus but he cannot be convicted if it is clear that he had knowledge of his actions.
Furthermore, in proving all material elements such proof must be beyond reasonable doubt. Motive on the other hand is not an element of any crime, however, it is always relevant evidence which can be used to prove intent or another degree of mens rea.39 This is in accordance with section 24 of the criminal code which provides that unless otherwise expressly declared, the motive by which a person is induced to do or omit to do an act, or to form an intention, is immaterial so far as regards criminal responsibility.
In a strict liability crime, the mental knowledge (mens rea) of the act is not required; actus reus only is enough for conviction. That is to say that the elements of mens rea and actus reus are only required in a crime of non-strict liability nature. These two elements of crime shall now be looked into one after the other