Malum in se

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malum in se

(mal-uhm in say) adv. Latin referring to an act that is "wrong in itself," in its very nature being illegal because it violates the natural, moral or public principles of a civilized society. In criminal law it is one of the collection of crimes which are traditional and not just created by statute, which are "malum prohibitum." Example: murder, rape, burglary, and robbery are malum in se, while violations of the Securities and Exchange Act or most "white collar crimes" are malum prohibitum. (See: malum prohibitum)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

MALUM IN SE. Evil in itself.
     2. An offence malum in se is one which is naturally evil, as murder, theft, and the like; offences at common law are generally mala in sese.
     3. An offence malum prohibitum, on the contrary, is not naturally an evil, but becomes so in consequence of its being forbidden; as playing at games, which being innocent before, have become unlawful in consequence of being forbidden. Vide Bac. Ab. Assumpsit, A, note; 2 Rolle's Ab. 355.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
Crimes of this sort are often referred to as malum prohibitum -- wrong because prohibited -- and are distinguished from crimes that are malum in se -- wrong in themselves independent of law.
The second circumstance in which judges might be tempted to deny that malum prohibitum crimes get special treatment is when they want to avoid the burden of explaining why they really view the conduct in question as malum in se. It goes without saying that the line between prohibitum and in se will often be blurry.
For one can determine whether a particular species of conduct -- whether possessing a gun, distributing a drug, or neglecting to pay a tax -- is malum in se or malum prohibitum only by appraising that conduct in light of moral norms external to positive law.