Legal Dictionary

malum prohibitum

Definition of malum prohibitum


    From Latin directly. Literally translated as "wrong because prohibited", or "bad because against the law".


malum prohibitum (plural: mala prohibita)

  1. (law) The Latin phrase used in law to refer to an action that is not inherently evil, but is nevertheless illegal only because prohibited, as opposed to malum in se. A malum prohibitum offense is something that is wrong only because a statute makes it so, or by consensus that society agrees to prohibit the act, and is typically regulatory in nature and often result in no direct injury or danger to the person, entity, or property but only merely create the danger or probability of it which the statute attempts to minimize. Used to develop consensual crimes.

See also

Further reading

Malum prohibitum (plural mala prohibita, literal translation: "wrong [as or because] prohibited") is a Latin phrase used in law to refer to conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of statute, as opposed to conduct evil in and of itself, or malum in se. Conduct that was so clearly violative of society's standards for allowable conduct that it was illegal under English common law is usually regarded as "malum in se". An offense that is malum prohibitum, for example, may not appear on the face to directly violate moral standards. The distinction between these two cases is discussed in State of Washington v. Thaddius X. Anderson (Supreme Court of the State of Washington, 67826-0, decided August 2000):

    Criminal offenses can be broken down into two general categories malum in se and malum prohibitum. The distinction between malum in se and malum prohibitum offenses is best characterized as follows: a malum in se offense is "naturally evil as adjudged by the sense of a civilized community," whereas a malum prohibitum offense is wrong only because a statute makes it so. State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945, 946 (1905).

    "Public welfare offenses" are a subset of malum prohibitum offenses as they are typically regulatory in nature and often "'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.'" Bash, 130 Wn.2d at 607 (quoting Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 255-56, 72 S. Ct. 240, 96 L. Ed. 288 (1952)); see also State v. Carty, 27 Wn. App. 715, 717, 620 P.2d 137 (1980).

Some examples of mala prohibita include parking violations, copyright violations, tax laws, cultural taboos, and doing certain things without a license.


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