Posts Tagged ‘malum prohibitum


Malum Prohibitum

(First published in April 2009)

One of the hottest topics that made the headlines these past few days is the unsolved summary executions in Davao City. Now I will not waste any time discussing those suspicions that these are state-sponsored killings. It could be some vigilante groups or rival gangs who perpetrated these murders, as our good Mayor had always maintained. What I would like to ponder about is the attitude of the Davaoeños towards these killings.

When an alleged drug user or dealer is gunned down by motorcycle-riding men, I bet that some of us would think, “One less criminal, one less problem for society.

One less criminal. The fact of the killing of this criminal will somehow remain on the sidelines.

I remember the book Primal Fear because it talked about malum prohibitum and malum in se.

For those too lazy to google those Latin phrases if they don’t already know, Wikipedia defines malum in se as “wrong or evil in itself.” Crimes like murder, rape, theft, robbery, and kidnapping are generally perceived as mala in se regardless of where they are committed, or even if there were no written laws punishing them.

Now for malum prohibitum, it is defined as “wrong because prohibited.” Non-observance of the liquor or smoking ban. Illegal possession of firearms. Illegal possession of prohibited drugs. These are crimes in certain societies because their laws or statutes made them crimes. They differ from mala in se in the sense that they “result in no direct or immediate injury to person or property but merely create the danger or probability of it which the law seeks to minimize.”

Anyway, not to bore those already familiar with the law, please google them if you need more information.

Earlier I was talking about the book Primal Fear, and there is a part that says:

Malum prohibitum is the way society defines the limits of acceptable behavior. So if everybody in the country wants to drink booze and booze is against the law, the law gets changed. But malum in se never changes. If everybody in the country suddenly went kill-crazy, they wouldn’t legalize murder.”

In the first half of the twentieth century there were certain periods in the United States and other countries when alcohol was illegal – not just the consumption in certain places or times, but also the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale of it. But the people loved their drink, and through their elected representatives they managed to have the prohibition lifted.

But for murder and other crimes considered mala in se, no civilized society has managed to legalize them. So far.

The people just turn a blind eye, or look beyond the mala in se (murder) to see the justification that the murdered victim had it coming since he was a criminal (drug user or dealer), even if the crime he was alleged of committing was only malum prohibitum.


Attempts at uncovering the underlying simplicity beneath apparently complex concepts as well as the core complexity within seemingly straightforward issues

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.