Psyb3 forensic psychology
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PSYB3 - Forensic Psychology. Forensic psychology. Defining & measuring crime Offender profiling Theories of criminal behaviour Punishing & treating crime. Today’s session. What is a crime?. What is a crime?.

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Forensic psychology

  • Defining & measuring crime

  • Offender profiling

  • Theories of criminal behaviour

  • Punishing & treating crime




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What is a crime?

“Crimes...are acts attracting legal punishment. [They] are offences against the community”

Blackburn (1993; p. 5)


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What is a crime?

  • Crimes have consequences that may range from trivial to highly injurious. They also:

    • Are socially disapproved of

    • Involve the violation of moral rules

  • However, Blackburn notes exceptions to these conditions. How many can you identify?


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What is a crime?

  • Socially disapproved of. What about...

    • Using work stationery for personal use?

    • Exceeding the speed limit?

  • Violate moral rules. What about...

    • Possessing marijuana?

    • Consensual sex between 15 year olds?


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What is a crime?

  • Are there any acts that everyone can agree are deserving of legal punishment?

  • Most societies condemn murder, rape and theft (Lemert, 1972).


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What is a crime?

  • “The core of criminal law is the same, but the border moves” (Feldman, 1993; p4). E.g.

    • Sexual conduct

    • Drugs and alcohol

    • Religious conduct

  • Criminal law in these areas varies greatly over time and between different places. How many examples can you think of?


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What is a crime?

  • The prevailing Western legal view is that a crime involves:

    • Actus reus – a voluntary act

    • Mens rea – an intention to commit the act

  • Does this satisfactorily distinguish between crimes and non-crimes?


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What is a crime?

  • What problems arise from:

    • requiring mens rea?

    • requiring actus reus?

  • Where might psychologists and members of the legal professions come into conflict?

  • Relevant issues:

    • Strict liability offences

    • Criminal responsibility/diminished responsibility


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What is a crime?

  • Some basic conclusions:

    • A crime is an act that violates the criminal law of a particular society at a particular time.

    • ‘Crime’ is not a natural or homogenous category of behaviour.

  • So what should we study?

    • Crime as legally defined?

    • Harmful antisocial behaviour (‘criminal’ or not)?


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What is a crime?

  • “one common feature is the knowledge of the lawbreaker that it attracts legal punishment [...] rulebreaking is a meaningful [...] focus for criminological psychology.”

    Blackburn (1993; p.17)


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