Home Law Defining Crime: A Critique of the Concept and Its Implication
Crimes That Occur to Take Possession by Force or Trickery
In this section, we examine the second dimension of our definition of crime: Crimes are behaviors committed through the use of trickery, deception, expropriation, and force that allow the offenders to take possession of the property, monetary or financial holdings, and / or property rights of others. As this part of the definition suggests, the definition of crime should not be limited to property crimes as they are currently defined in the criminal law.
One way in which offenders acquire the property of others is through the use of force (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990). Force may be used to accomplish the taking of property in various ways, such as the laying on of hands to exert power and control over the victim. Force may also be exerted through the brandishing of weapons in efforts to exert power and control over the offender and his or her property. Force may also be exerted through physical and/or verbal intimidation. The criminal law tends to recognize at least some of the forms in which force is exerted to obtain property as crime. The criminal law, however, limits its definition of crime to only some acts of force as crimes, and in doing so, it fails to justify the inclusion or exclusion of certain offenses where force is used to obtain the property of others.
It is rare that crimes of the powerful that lead to property acquisition involve the use of physical aggressions and direct physical violence such as weapons or other forms of intimidation. While rare, corporations have sometimes employed these tactics. For example, as part of the Enron Scandal, Enron sales associates sometimes employed intimidation tactics and inferences of violence to sell junk bonds and targeted the elderly with such tactics in face-to- face interactions using door-to-door sales techniques. In the United Kingdom, energy companies such as Spark have reportedly aggressively transferred consumers to their company, charged them for higher-than-market rates, and then refused to let them leave the company, charging them higher-than-average fees for heating their homes (Bischoff and Evans 2013).
The sale of junk bonds, while sometimes examined by criminologists as crimes (Pontell and Calivita 1993), is also often excluded from efforts to count crime, since technically, the sale of junk bonds is not a violation of the criminal law. The exclusion of these kinds of crimes from the criminal law raises questions about the relationships between the use of intimidation and the status of offenders in the commission of harmful acts that appear quite similar to crimes defined in the criminal law. For example, when an offender employs intimidation to steal a bike, wallet, or jewelry, the criminal law interprets this as a crime. When intimidations facilitate a white-collar or corporate crime, however, the criminal law generally does not apply, and the redress of such acts is left to other, noncriminal forms of law or consumer watchdog groups that may not be able to do much to help consumers.
In response to our argument, some might reply that legitimate business practices sometimes involve creating psychological pressure on potential customers in order to make a sale. That is how business may be practiced, and we could debate whether the legitimacy of this practice in the business world means that such a behavior ought to be accepted simply because it is considered normal. We could note, for example, that in some portions of the business world, it is also considered normal to commit offenses that are against the law or are widely judged to be highly unethical (Adler 2002; Conklin 1977).
Sales pressure is often exerted in psychological forms, as sales persons attempt to improve their chances of a sale by engaging in a wide variety of tactics such as suggesting the item is the last one, someone else is interested in it, someone else has left a deposit, and so on. In contrast to such routine sales pressures, corporate crimes not only may involve elaborate frauds but have sometimes involved physical intimidation, such as in the case cited earlier concerning Enron. We reference this possibility so that such cases are not overlooked and omitted from the examination of corporate crimes. While we may believe that routine business practices may not be criminal under our definition of crime, that determination should be based on scientific study in the discipline as opposed to politics.
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