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In law and religion, a wrong (from Old English wrang – 'crooked')[1] is any action (or inaction) that is illegal or immoral.[2] Legal wrongs are usually quite clearly defined in the law of a state and/or jurisdiction. They can be divided into civil wrongs and crimes (or criminal offences) in common law countries,[2] while civil law countries tend to have some additional categories, such as contraventions.

Moral wrong is an underlying concept for legal wrong. Some moral wrongs are punishable by law (e.g., murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, racketeering, illegal drug trafficking, armed robbery, theft, fraud, etc.).[2] Other moral wrongs have nothing to do with law. On the other hand, some legal wrongs, such as many types of moving and parking violations, could hardly be classified as moral wrongs.[2]

Legal wrong[edit]

A violation of law is any act (or, less commonly, failure to act) that fails to abide by existing law.[3] Violations generally include both crimes and civil wrongs.[4] Some acts, such as fraud and deception, can violate both civil and criminal laws. In law, a wrong can be a legal injury, which is any damage resulting from a violation of a legal right. A legal wrong can also imply the state of being contrary to the principles of justice or law. It means that something is contrary to conscience or morality and results in treating others unjustly. If the loss caused by a wrong is minor enough, there is no compensation, which principle is known as de minimis non curat lex. Otherwise, damages apply.

The law of England recognised the concept of a "wrong" before it recognised the distinction between civil wrongs (governed by civil law) and crimes (defined by criminal law), which distinction was developed during the thirteenth century.[5]

Civil law violations usually lead to civil penalties like fines, criminal offenses to more severe punishments.

The severity of the punishment should reflect the severity of the violation (retributive justice).[6] In realistic situations and for minor violations, however, altruistic punishment was shown not to fit the crime.[7] This subdivision is similar to the distinction between misdemeanours and felonies.[8][9]

Other examples of violations of law include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "crime". Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Elizabeth A. Martin (2003). Oxford Dictionary of Law (7 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198607563.
  3. ^ See, e.g., 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(T); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(U)
  4. ^ See, e.g.,
  5. ^ O. Hood Phillips, A First Book of English Law, Sweet and Maxwell, 4th ed., 1960, pp. 207, 208, 213
  6. ^ "Violation of the Law and Punishment | Ísland.is".
  7. ^ Balafoutas, Loukas; Nikiforakis, Nikos; Rockenbach, Bettina (2016-11-01). "Altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of norm violations in the field". Nature Communications. 7: 13327. Bibcode:2016NatCo...713327B. doi:10.1038/ncomms13327. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5097122. PMID 27802261.
  8. ^ See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)
  9. ^ "Crime - Classification of crimes".
  10. ^ "Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002)". U.S. Supreme Court. Harvard Law School. May 20, 2002. p. 670 n.10.


  • Willis, Hugh. Principles of the Law of Damages. The Keefe-Davidson Co.: St. Paul, 1910.

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