1.10. Different Types of Crimes and Offenses

Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean

Once an act gets identified as a crime, the law then attempts to define crime in a way that can distinguish the harm done and the severity of the crime. There are three different types of crime, and two different types of offenses that will get discussed. The types of crime presented just below follow the categories used by the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, which is a database of all crimes reported in the United States, maintained by the FBI. Find a full listing of NIBRS-defined crimes, and their classification, here.

Types of Crime

Crimes Against the Person

Crimes against the person are often considered the most serious and may include homicide, rape, assault, kidnapping, and intimate partner violence. Most, but not all, “crimes against the person” would also be commonly labeled “violent” crimes.

Crimes Against Property

Property crimes are widespread and generally seen as less severe than crimes against the person. Property crimes may include larceny, burglary, arson, and trespassing. There are varying degrees of liability depending on the circumstances of the case.

Crimes Against Society

Crimes against society are those that are seen as disrupting social order. They may or may not also imply physical harm to property, people, or other living creatures. (For example, “animal cruelty,” “espionage,” and “purchasing prostitution” are offenses defined as “crimes against society” by the NIBRS.) In fact, this is the largest category of crime defined by the NIBRS, representing 34 out of 71 offenses. For certain crimes against society, it may be difficult to identify a specific or individual victim. In theory, the victim of these crimes is society, because the social and moral order has been violated. At the same time, because many crimes against society – such as drug offenses – are seen as victimless, there is much debate as to whether many such acts should be the subject of criminal law at all.

Types or Levels of Offense

By definition, the two different types of criminal offense relates to the severity of the punishment that a convicted offender may face. All of the types of crime listed above may include both types of offense, although misdemeanors are often seen as encompassing less harmful crimes, while the felony label applies to more serious crimes.

A misdemeanor is considered a more minor criminal offense, punishable by jail time of up to one year. Depending on the specific crime, misdemeanors may be labelled as mala prohibita, or “bad” simply because they are prohibited.

A felony is an offense that is punishable by a sentence of more than one year in state or federal prison and sometimes by death. Felony-type offenses are sometimes classified as mala in se, or inherently harmful.




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Introduction to the U.S. Criminal Justice System Copyright © 2019 by Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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