Is Committing a Crime a "Right"?

As human beings, do we have “rights” to do whatever we want?
What exactly is a definition of a “right”?

If you are willing to do the time for a crime, do you not therefore have the “right” to commit that crime as a human being on this planet?

Does your crime deprive someone else of life or property? If so, then no, you do not have that right.

If you do a crime in the U.S., you have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present when you are being questioned. If you can’t afford an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed for you. That’s about it.

Pulling from the definition according to merriam-webster, it seems reasonable to define a “right” as “the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled”. One is not “justly entitled” to do whatever they want; there’s pretty much nobody who would agree that in a just world people are granted the privilege to commit crimes. So no, one doesn’t have the right to commit crimes.

However, one could reasonably argue that if one does commit a crime, they have a right to fair punishment (as in, not cruel or unusual). So you don’t have the right to commit a crime, but if you do commit a crime then you have the right to do the time (as opposed to, say, being tortured to death for jaywalking).

I get what you mean, but no. When you do something that you had no right to do, then often there is a punishment attached by other people - but the fact that someone punished you doesn’t go back in time and make your action right.

Basically, you have the right to do anything that you think is good for you AND at the same time no one else thinks it would be bad for them if you did it. If it would be bad for them, you don’t have the right anymore. And if you disagree… that’s what governments and laws are for.

I asked the same question a few years back; curious to see new responses here.

That could get pretty weird pretty fast: what happens if cops arrive on the scene while someone is trying to murder me? Obviously I disagree that he has the right to murder me, even if he declares that he’s willing to pay the price — but the interesting question is, if you think he does have the right to commit a crime and get punished, can they respond, yeah, but, see, we’re only offering you that trade for the other thing you’re up to: the attempted murder. That’s fair, right?

No, a prison sentence if not a price that you pay for being allowed to commit a crime. It’s not like a toll where you pay fifty cents to cross a bridge.

It’s the exact opposite. The prison sentence is society’s way of telling people that they do not want anyone to commit this crime and they’re serious about it. It’s like a “No Trespassing” sign.

The question isn’t “is committing this crime a right?” it is “is committing crime a right?” As far as I know, it is not illegal to break the law. There is no extra punishment meted out, for example, for murder because committing murder also broke the law against breaking laws. The law is simply “no murdering”.

So in your hypothetical, he does not have the right to murder you: we have laws against that. And in trying, he exercised his right to break the law, so of course the police would arrest him.

Again: the argument (or question) is not that he has the right to commit a particular crime, but rather that he has the right to disobey the law.

As I wrote six years ago, I have a hard time finding a compelling argument that people do not have a right, implicit, as Mr. Parenti said, to break the law. I’ll re-post the quote from him:

I’m not sure it’s possible to have a generic ‘right to break the law’ such as a person could use to justify breaking the law as political protest. As in I’m not sure it’s semantically sensible; the definition of “right” in these contexts seems to inherently fall back on the idea that there is something granting or denying you privileges. To claim that some agency that denies you a privilege is also granting you the right to ignore its denials is self-contradictory.

What you can have, though, is a situation where multiple authority-granting agencies are in conflict about what rights you have. For example, one could presume that there’s a sort of moral authority, either granted by a god or by the notion that society itself grants you the right to do things favorable to society. In these cases one could reasonably claim to have the moral right to break civil laws or exercise civil rights that they don’t have - if you consider moral authority to supersede civil authority.

Of course if you want anybody to be impressed by such declarations as you’re dragged off to jail, it would help if you can cite a plausible superseding authority. I’m not sure I can think of one that could credibly justify crime in general.

It is not a “right” but a wrong. Some crimes like theft carry almost no penalty and are rarely prosecuted.

Even stealing from billionaire is a crime. Not paying taxes is a crime. I am not sure how wrong it is,but it is not a right.

We have something like that in the New York prison system. We have a list of departmental regulations that prisoners must comply with. It may not technically be a set of laws, depending on how you define that, but the enforcement can reach all the way up to spending more time in prison.

And one of the departmental regulations is that a prisoner cannot break any laws. So a prisoner could be arrested for breaking some law, convicted of the crime, and then face a departmental hearing for having broken the law with his conviction being entered as evidence.

The only way I can mentally gymnasticize the OP’s premise is to consider that in a liberal democracy, there’s little or no place for the concept of “prior restraint”, in the sense that even if the authorities strongly suspect you will commit a crime in the future, they can’t pre-emptively lock you up. It gets murky if they think you pose an “imminent” threat, but beyond that you’re free to plan your crime as long as you like, up until the moment you actually start to commit it or conspire with another person to commit it. Only then can the state act against you.

Rights come from living in society (if we didn’t there’d be no point in the concept), and living in society brings responsibilities: at the root of which is respecting the rights of others in the society.

Or in other words, punishment for a crime isn’t a “price” for exercising a right, it’s the consequence of breaching someone else’s rights.


See, that’s dystopian weirdness and should be stopped, IMO.

‘Right’ is a word charged with emotion, political bias, and ambiguity. Some Americans would even use it as an excuse to segue into a discussion of Jehovah and His Plan for Mankind.

Best is to rephrase any serious question to avoid use of this term or its synonyms.

Sometimes, breaking the law is a duty. Far too often.

Maybe, but a duty is not a right.