Crime in Italy
Note: for more related information, see the entry on the Italian Criminal Justice System.
1. Classification of crimes.
*Legal classification. All criminal offenses
(reati) are divided by the Penal Code (Codice
Penale) into two broad categories: delitti, which
are serious offenses and contravvenzioni, which
are less serious offenses. The two categories
(The crime categories are described in the second
and third books of the Italian Penal Code
entitled, Libro Secondo: Dei Delitti in
Particolare and Libro Terzo: Delle Contravvenzioni
in Particolare, respectively) are also used to
help to classify special law statutes (drugs,
prostitution, weapons, bankruptcy, pollution,
hunting, traffic, customs, tax evasion, Military
Code in wartime and in peacetime). The
distinction between delitti and contravvenzioni
crimes is based on the seriousness of the crime
and on the severity of punishment. Although they
are both punishable by imprisonment and/or fine,
the sentences for delitti are more severe than
those for the contravvenzioni. (For delitti
crimes, the penalty is 15 days to 24 years
imprisonment, and as much as 30 years or life
imprisonment in special cases. For contravvenzioni
crimes, the penalty is 5 days to 3 years
imprisonment. As a rule, sentences for
contravvenzioni are served in different types of
prison facilities than those used for delitti.
Fines vary considerably and can amount to 500,000
U. S. Dollars for serious drug offenses. (Penal
The Penal Code generally classifies each
crime under a specific heading: a) Crimes against
the Nation (delitti contro la personalita` dello
Stato), (for example, espionage, assassination of
the President, armed bands, terrorism).
b) Crimes against public authority (delitti contro
la pubblica amministrazione), (for instance,
corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public
property by an officer).
c) Crimes against judicial authority (delitti
contro l’amministrazione della giustizia), (for
example, Perjury, to suborn a witness).
d) Crimes against religious feelings and against
the feelings of pity towards the dead (delitti
contro il sentimento religioso e contro la pieta`
dei defunti), (profanation of a tomb, offenses
e) Crimes against the public order/breach of the
peace (delitti contro l’ordine pubblico), (for
instance, criminal association, particularly of
the mafioso type).
f) Crimes against public safety (delitti contro
l’incolumita` pubblica), (poisoning food, water
and drugs, arson, provoking a railway or air
g) Crimes against public faithfulness (delitti
contro la fede pubblica), (forgery and
h) Crimes against public economy, industry and
commerce (delitti contro l’economia pubblica,
l’industria e il commercio), (commercial fraud).
i) Crimes against public morality (delitti contro
la moralita` pubblica e il buon costume), (rape,
j) Crimes against the family (delitti contro la
famiglia), (bigamy, incest).
k) Crimes against the person/violent
crimes(delitti contro la persona), (murder,
assault, non-ransom kidnapping, defamation).
l) Crimes against property (Delitti contro il
patrimonio), (theft, money laundering, robbery,
extortion, ransom kidnapping). (The Penal Code
considers the violent crimes of robbery,
extortion, and ransom kidnapping as property
crimes because their main intent is to gain
*Age of criminal responsibility. The age of
criminal responsibility is 18 under the Penal Code
(Art.85), which also states that a person is
chargeable with a crime only if mentally competent
at the time of its commission. Over the age of
18, a person is considered fully chargeable with a
crime unless a mental evaluation ordered by the
judge finds the person mentally incompetent due to
a mental disease, deaf-mutism, or chronic
intoxication from alcohol or drug abuse.
(Mentally incompetent individuals who commit
serious crimes are considered socially dangerous
and must undergo compulsory hospitalization in a
special mental institution for offenders (ospedale
psichiatrico giudiziario). (Penal Code, Art.
222).) In these cases, usually no criminal
sanction is imposed. Instead, compulsory
hospitalization in a special mental institution
for insane offenders is provided as a safety
measure, except in minor offense cases. (Penal
Code, Art.88,95,96,222; Code of Penal Procedure,
A person can also be considered criminally
liable, if as the result of a psychiatric
examination, he or she is found partly mentally
incompetent because of mental disease, chronic
intoxication deriving from alcohol, drug abuse, or
deaf-mutism. (Penal Code, Art.88,89,95,96). In
that case, in addition to the penal sanction,
compulsory hospitalization is provided as a safety
measure. For minor offenses, release under
surveillance may be imposed as an alternative
measure. (Penal Code, Art.219).
A person under 14 years old is not considered
mentally competent and therefore cannot be charged
with any crime. If mentally competent, a person
between 14 and 18 years old is considered legally
responsible, although a more lenient criminal
sanction is imposed. (Penal Code, Art.97,98).
*Drug offenses. The personal use of drugs has
recently been decriminalized. Following a national
referendum, a new law does not permit imprisonment
for drug-related activities involving personal use
only. In these cases, only administrative
sanctions, such as revoking a driving license or
passport, can be imposed. However, producing,
selling or trafficking drugs are considered very
serious crimes. Criminal association with drug
offenses is alone punishable by a maximum prison
sentence of 30 years. Illegal drugs include opium
and its derivatives (morphine, heroin), cocaine
and its derivatives, amphetamine, synthetic drugs,
cannabis, and hashish. (According to international
agreements, all narcotics (and nonnarcotic
dangerous drugs) whose manufacturing and
distribution is prohibited or restricted, are
listed in the Official Gazette, October 9, 1990.)
(Official Gazette, Oct.31, 1990, June 5, 1993).
2. Crime statistics.
The definitions of the following crimes
(reati) are provided in the Penal Code. The number
of crimes reported by police to the judiciary were
collected by the Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
(National Institute of Statistics, Yearbook of
Statistics: Crimes reported by the Police to the
judicial authority according to the type of
offense, years 1987-1991. The 1992 figures are
taken from ISTAT, press release, March 17, 1993.
(Istituto Nazionale di Statistica ((ISTAT,
Annuario Statistico o: Delitti denunciati
all’Autorita giudiziaria dalle forze dell’ordine
(Polizia di Stato, Carabinieri e Guardia di
Finanza) per specie del delitto, anni 1986-1992).)
Excluding homicide, ISTAT sources do not specify
whether attempts are included.
*Murder. In 1992, there were a total of 1,461
incidents of murder (Omicidio) and 1,851 incidents
of attempted murder (Tentato omicidio). (Figures
for the number of murders in prior years: 1,096
(1987); 1,255 (1988); 1,563 (1989); 1773 (1990);
and 1,916 (1991). Figures for the number of
attempted murders in prior years: 15,900 (1987);
1,586 (1988); 1,759 (1989);1,959 (1990); and 2,197
(1991). In 1991, the rate for murders and
attempted murders recorded was 3.31 and 3.8 per
100,000 population, respectively.) The figures
for murder/intentional homicide do not include
infanticides. (Penal Code, Art.56, 575-577).
*Rape. In 1992, there were 806 incidents of
forcible rape (Violenza carnale) reported by
police. (The number of rapes recorded for prior
years: 871 (1987); 865 (1988); 687 (1989); 687
(1990); 733 (1991). The rate of rapes recorded in
1991 was 1.26 per 100,000 population.) (Penal
*Burglary. In 1992, the police reported 193,170
incidents of burglary, (Furto aggravato), in the
home. (The number of burglarly incidents which
took place in the home, recorded for prior years:
158,305 (1987); 160,860 (1988); 175,408 (1989);
210,835 (1990); and 206,216 (1991). In 1991, the
rate for recorded burglaries was 357.09 per
100,000.) (Penal Code, Art.624- 625). Burglary
in private houses is reported here as a serious
property crime because it is routinely punished
more severely than other forms of aggravated theft
(pocket picking), which is typically punishable by
1 to 6 years in prison under the Penal law.
*Serious drug offense. In 1992, there were 42,164
incidents of drug offenses (Produzione, commercio
di stupefacenti) reported by police. (The number
of drug offenses recorded for prior years: 21,590
(1987); 31,079 (1988); 30,180 (1989); 30,691
(1990) and 40,421 (1991). The rate of drug
offenses in 1991 was 69.99 per 100,000.) These
incidents include the offenses of growing,
manufacturing, selling or distributing drugs.
(Official Gazette, Oct. 31, 1990).
*Crime regions. Organized crime conducts illegal
activities over portions of the territory in at
least three regions: Sicilia (Mafia), Calabria
(N’drangheta) and Campania (Camorra). Although
each organization has a different history,
structure and modus operandi, their main illegal
activities (which often involve violent crime) are
similar, ranging from extortion and drug
trafficking to corruption. (Art. 416 of the Penal
Code defines these activities in detail. For
example, criminal association of the mafioso type
(associazione per delinquere di tipo mafioso)
providing severe penalties of up to 15 years in
prison for involvement in the association alone.
The law also has special prosecuting and
sentencing provisions for this type of crime,
which includes kidnapping and drug offenses.
In prosecuting these cases, some evidence
obtained from outside sources may be admitted,
including evidence gathered during the trial or in
the pre-trial investigation stage. The pre-trial
investigation stage and pre-trial incarceration
can extend past the limits normally provided by
Convicted defendants of this crime also are
allowed less privileges than other convicted
criminals. However, the accused is entitled to a
penalty reduction and other privileges if he or
she decides to cooperate with the justice system
by producing evidence that can be used to
effectively fight organized crime. (Official
Gazette, August 7, 1992).) The Penal Code
(Art.416) defines these activities in detail and
provides for a 15 year maximum prison sentence for
A specific form of rural criminality can be
found in the central-eastern mountainous area of
inner Sardinia, which has a high rate of violent
crime that includes homicide, assault, bombing,
rustling and ransom kidnapping.
Note: this work was completed in 1993
- Criminal Justice
- Legal System
- Criminal Justice System
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- Feeley, Malcolm M. (1973), “Two models of the criminal justice system”. Law and Society Review, 7(3): 407-425.