harm (element) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

In criminal law, harm refers to a particular harm (bad outcome) that the law seeks to prohibit (such as the killing of a person in murder).  The harm must actually occur.

In criminal law, the concept of harm is essential. It refers to a bad outcome that the law seeks to prohibit, and the occurrence of this bad outcome is a crucial element in determining whether a crime has been committed.

The concept of harm is central to the definition of the offense. It is the specific harm that the law seeks to prevent, and the occurrence of it is the basis for the criminal liability of the offender. It can be either tangible, such as physical injury or property damage, or intangible, such as emotional distress or damage to reputation.

In order to convict a defendant of a crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant caused the harm that is the subject of the offense. This is often done by establishing a causal link between the defendant’s conduct and the harm suffered by the victim. For example, in a murder case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions caused the death of the victim. In other cases, the harm may be less direct, such as in cases of fraud or theft, where the harm is financial in nature.

This element of a crime can also be divided into two categories: result crimes and conduct crimes. Result crimes are those where the harm must actually occur for the defendant to be guilty of the offense. For example, murder is a result crime because the victim must actually die for the defendant to be guilty. On the other hand, conduct crimes are those where the defendant can be guilty even if the harm did not actually occur. For example, attempted murder is a conduct crime because the defendant can be guilty even if the victim did not die.

The concept is also important in determining the severity of a criminal offense. The severity of a crime is often based on the extent of the harm caused by the offense. For example, a minor assault that results in only minor physical injuries may be classified as a misdemeanor. In contrast, a more serious assault that results in severe physical injury may be classified as a felony.

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Last Modified: 04/09/2023

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