mala in se | Definition

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

Mala In Se is a Latin legal phrase meaning “evil” or “wrong in itself.”

Contrast with Mala Prohibita.

Mala in se is a Latin legal phrase that is used to describe acts that are inherently evil or wrong, regardless of whether they are prohibited by law. This concept is central to the study of criminal law and has played a significant role in the development of the modern legal system.

The idea behind mala in se is that some acts are so universally recognized as wrong that they are prohibited by law, not because of their harmful effects on society, but because they are fundamentally immoral or unethical. Examples of acts that are considered mala in se include murder, theft, and rape. These acts are considered wrong in and of themselves, regardless of whether they are prohibited by law.

In contrast to mala in se offenses, some acts are considered mala prohibita, meaning they are only wrong because they are prohibited by law. Examples of mala prohibita offenses include traffic violations, tax evasion, and drug possession. These offenses are not inherently wrong or harmful, but they are prohibited by law for a variety of reasons, such as to promote public safety or regulate behavior.

Mala in se offenses are typically punished more severely than mala prohibita offenses, reflecting their inherent wrongness and the harm they cause to society. In addition, the prosecution of mala in se offenses often involves a higher standard of proof, such as proving intent or knowledge of wrongdoing, than the prosecution of mala prohibita offenses.

The concept of mala in se has played a significant role in the development of the modern legal system. It has helped to establish a universal understanding of right and wrong and has provided a basis for the development of laws that reflect those values. Additionally, the concept has helped to establish the importance of individual rights and the need for laws to protect those rights.

However, the concept is not without controversy. Some argue that the distinction between mala in se and mala prohibita offenses is arbitrary and that all criminal offenses should be evaluated based on their actual harm to society. Others argue that the concept of mala in se is overly simplistic and fails to account for the complexity of morality and ethics.

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Last Modified: 04/06/2023

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