Mala in Se

The Latin term mala in se translates to mean “wrong in itself,” or “evil in itself.” In the legal system, mala in se refers to acts that are inherently wrong, or an act that is wrong in and of itself. This is in contrast to mala prohibita, which is an act that is wrong because it is prohibited by law. To explore this concept, consider the following mala in se definition.

Definition of Mala in Se

Pronounced: mala in say

Plural. Singular form: malum in se


  1. An act or offense that is evil or wrong by its own nature, regardless of law or statute.


New Latin

What is Mala in Se

The Latin phrase mala in se – as used in modern times – refers to actions that are considered to be wrong because of their very nature, regardless of whether there is a statute or law prohibiting them. There are certain acts that are considered by humanity to be wrong or evil. These include such acts as murder, torture, kidnapping, rape, theft, and other crimes against humanity. While there are laws prohibiting these things, they are considered wrong in and of themselves – mala in se – no matter what the law says.

By comparison, malum prohibitum means the act is wrong because it is prohibited – or it is wrong because there is a law or regulation prohibiting it. For example, in the U.S., drivers are required to have a valid drivers’ license. Driving without a valid license is not wrong because it is inherently evil, but because it is prohibited by law.

Criminal Acts Mala in Se

Criminal acts are divided into the two categories, mala in se, and malum prohibitum. Criminal acts mala in se require no extra reasons to prove that they are wrong, or how wrong they are. These are the types of crime that clearly and discernably affect or cause harm to other people. These are the crimes that engender moral outrage.

Historically, crimes mala in se formed the basis for British common law. All crimes identified by this system were mala in se, and were subject to a uniform punishment: death. This resulted in thieves being punished as harshly as murders, which eventually didn’t sit well with the public.

As society’s views evolved over time, the legal system changed a great deal. In modern law, thieves need not worry about receiving as severe a punishment as murderers. While society still considers crimes mala in se to be the most detestable crimes, as compared to acts that are mala prohibita, a system of punishment that fits the severity of the crime was gradually adopted.

In our modern system, crimes generally incur incremental punishments, such as a much harsher punishment for a third DUI conviction than for a first petty theft conviction. This occurs whether the crime is wrong in itself, or wrong by law. In prescribing punishment to a defendant convicted of a crime, modern courts give great consideration to the individual’s criminal history, and to his intent at the time the crime was committed.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.