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Crimen

A legal term having two meanings in ordinary use: (a) a punishable offence; and (b) the accusation brought against the person by whom the offence is committed. In the first of these senses crimina were, in the oldest period of Roman history, regarded as wrongs against religion and the gods, and their punishment as an expiation offered to heaven (Serv. ad Verg. Aen. i. 632). In the Twelve Tables this implication of penal law with religion and religious sanctions has become less prominent, and we find a distinction between offences which are punished by a solemn legislative act of the State and offences atoned for by a fine paid to the injured person in satisfaction of his resentment, as to the amount of which the parties might come to terms ( Fest. s. v. talio). From this distinction arose another, of more scientific value, between delicta privata and crimina publica (Dig. 21, 1, 17, 18), which is adhered to with tolerable consistency in the writings of the jurists and the later law. Delicta privata, or delicta simply, are civil offences, or what we call “torts”; crimina publica are what we call “crimes,” offences against the State or community, the subject of prosecution before a criminal tribunal. But occasionally a delict is spoken of as a crimen (e. g. extra furti crimen videri, Gaius, iii. 197; Inst. iv. 1, 7), and in other passages (e. g. Dig. 48, 19, 1) a person who commits a crime is said delinquere. Crimes punishable by death, loss of libertas, by interdictio aquae et ignis, or deportatio were called capitalia.

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