There are two main types of law in the United States: civil law and criminal law. Criminal law is designed to address behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or the public, even if the victim is an individual person as opposed to a group of people. Criminal law can be thought of as a body of federal and state rules that prohibit behavior the government considers to be harmful to society.

In short, crimes are defined by criminal law. If a person engages in acts of behaviors that are considered to be harmful to society, they could be found guilty of committing a crime. Crimes are generally prosecuted in a criminal court. Someone convicted of a crime may be forced to pay fines, and may also lose their personal freedoms and privileges by being sentenced to jail or prison time.

What Are the Different Types of Crimes?

There are many different crimes, and what exactly constitutes a crime may vary from state to state. In general, crimes may be categorized into four broad categories. These categories are personal crimes, property crimes, inchoate crimes, and statutory crimes.

Personal crimes are most commonly generalized as a violent crime that causes physical, emotional, or psychological harm to the victim. These crimes are offenses against the person, and can include but are not limited to:

  • Assault and Battery: Assault refers to the intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of harm. In other words, assault is a situation in which one person causes another person to fear being harmed. Assault and battery are most commonly considered two distinct personal crimes, although many states do merge the two crimes into the one crime known as “assault and battery.”
    • Battery refers to the unauthorized application of force against another person’s body. This results in offensive touching, or actual physical injury. As some jurisdictions define assault as attempted but failed battery, battery charges are commonly grouped with assault to form the single charge of assault and battery;
  • False Imprisonment: False imprisonment refers to one person forcibly restraining another person, against their will, with a risk of being seriously injured or killed. Any person who intentionally restricts another person’s freedom or movement, without their consent, may be liable for false imprisonment;
  • Kidnapping: Kidnapping is defined as the carrying away or confinement of a person by force or deception, without that person’s consent. In other words, kidnapping is the seizure and detention of a person without their consent, while intending to carry away the person at a later time, hold the person for ransom, etc;
  • Homicide: Homicide includes crimes such as first and second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular homicide; and
  • Rape: Rape also includes statutory rape and sexual assault.

Property crimes, or offenses against property, do not necessarily involve the harm of another person. Rather, these crimes involve interference with another person’s right to use or enjoy their own property. Some examples of property crimes include but are not limited to:

  • Theft: Larceny refers to a type of theft in which a person takes another person’s property and carries it away, with the intent to permanently deprive the legal owner of their property. Robbery is known as theft by force, and may also be considered a personal crime as it often results in physical and mental harm. Burglary occurs when a person breaks and enters into a home or building, intending to commit a crime. This crime is generally theft, although assault or arson may also constitute burglary;
  • Arson: Arson is the willful and malicious burning or charring of another person’s property or structure;
  • White Collar Crimes: Embezzlement refers to a type of white collar crime in which a person entrusted with the finances of another person or business illegally takes that money for their own personal use. Forgery is another example of a white collar property crime, because it is the creation, alteration, forging, or imitation of any document with the intent to defraud another person of their property;
  • False Pretenses: False pretenses refers to a combination of fraud and larceny, in which a person misrepresents in order to obtain the property of another; and
  • Receipt of Stolen Goods: It is a crime to receive or purchase property that you know or believe to be stolen, or otherwise obtained through theft.

Inchoate, or incomplete, refers to crimes that were initiated but not brought to completion. A person would need to take a substantial step towards completing a crime, as opposed to simply intending to commit a crime. A few examples of inchoate crimes include:

  • “Attempted” crimes, such as attempted robbery, attempted murder, etc.;
  • Solicitation: Crimes involving requesting, asking, hiring, commanding, or encouraging someone else to commit a crime; and
  • Conspiracy: Crimes involving multiple actors coming together to engage in criminal activity.

Statutory crimes are violations of specific state or federal statutes. They may involve either property offenses or personal offenses. An example of this would be alcohol related crimes, such as DUI or selling alcohol to a minor.

Are There Different Categories of Seriousness for Crimes?

The seriousness of a crime is generally categorized as either a misdemeanor, or a felony. Misdemeanors are typically less serious crimes such as shoplifting. Misdemeanors generally carry a fine of up to $1,000 with no more than one year being spent in a jail facility, if any time is to be spent in jail at all.

Felony crimes are considered to be more serious in nature, such as kidnapping, and have heavier punishments. In addition to higher fines, felonies are generally punished with a prison sentence of one year or more, to be carried out in a state prison facility.

State laws may categorize crimes, such as categorizing offenses against the person as either violent crimes or nonviolent crimes. Crimes may be categorized by their criminal intent. General Intent Crimes and Specific Intent Crimes are differentiated by the state of mind necessary to be found guilty.

Do I Need an Attorney If I’ve Been Accused of a Crime?

As crimes are not easy to define, and each state may categorize crimes differently, you should absolutely consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you are being accused of committing a crime.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand what constitutes a crime and what your rights are. Additionally, the attorney can determine if any defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you in a court of law as needed.