Legal Language Services has set up a list of crimes and what each crime entails. This is by no means a complete list, merely a listing of the most commonly committed crimes. Some of the more involved crimes are accompanied with examples for clarification.
Aiding and Abetting/Accessory – Aiding and abetting or accessory to a crime is when a person knowingly assists with the commitment of an actual crime, whether through their advice, actions, or financial backing. The person need not be present when the crime is actually committed to be charged with aiding and abetting or accessory, merely involved somehow in any part of the committed crime. If the person’s level of involvement in the crime is high enough, they could be charged with conspiracy rather than aiding and abetting or accessory.
Example: Arthur lends Bobby his car, knowing full well that Bobby will be using the car as a getaway vehicle after Bobby robs a bank. Once Bobby has the stolen money, Arthur agrees to let him hide the money at his house. If Bobby is caught and charged with the robbery, Arthur could be charged with aiding and abetting, or acting as an accessory to the robbery.
Arson – The laws of most states consider arson to be when a person intentionally sets fire to any structure or building, most commonly a house or business. Most states recognize varying degrees of arson. The severity depends on such factors as the building being occupied at the time of the arson and if the arson was committed to perpetuate insurance fraud.
Assault and Battery – The crime of assault and battery is committed when someone attempts to or actually does physically strike another person. It is also considered assault and battery when someone acts in a threatening manner towards another person, with the implication of physical violence. When someone attempts or actually does cause severe injury to another person, or uses a deadly weapon, the assault and battery is called “aggravated.”
Bribery – Bribery occurs when there is an offer or acceptance of something of value for influence on a government/public official or employee. Bribes can be any form of gift or payment of money in exchange for some sort of favorable treatment, like the award of a government contract. In most cases, the person offering the bribe and the person accepting the bribe can both be charged with bribery.
Burglary – Burglary is defined as the entry into almost any structure (not just a home or business) with the intent to commit a crime once inside (not just theft). Although it is often referred to as “breaking and entering,” no actual physical breaking is required; the offender can even walk through an open door. Burglary differs from robbery, which involves use of force or fear to obtain another person’s property. During a burglary, there is usually no victim present at the time of the crime.
Example: Charles enters Diane’s house through an open window with the intent of stealing Diane’s jewelry. Upon hearing a car pull up, Charles becomes nervous and leaves before he was able to grab the jewelry. Even though Charles didn’t actually take anything, he has committed burglary.
Child Abuse – Child abuse is broadly defined as any type of cruelty inflicted upon a child, be it mental, physical or sexual abuse, neglect or exploitation. The specific crimes can be charged in instances of child abuse, including sexual assault and assault and battery. In many states, certain individuals and caregivers, such as doctors and teachers, are required by law to report what they suspect may be child abuse.
Child Pornography – It is a crime to produce, possess, distribute or sell pornographic materials that exploit or portray a minor. With the leaps that technology has made, child pornography laws are increasingly being utilized to punish those who obtain, share or distribute pornographic material involving children over the Internet, including images and films.
Computer Crime – This is probably the crime that has seen the biggest leap of occurrences in the shortest amount of time. Computer crime consists of a person performing certain acts without the proper authorization, including: accessing a computer, system or network; modifying, damaging, using, disclosing, copying or taking programs or data; purposefully introducing a virus or other contaminant into a computer system; using a computer in a scheme to defraud; interfering with someone else’s computer access or use; using encryption in aid of a crime; falsifying e-mail source information; and stealing an information service from a provider.
Conspiracy – A conspiracy occurs when two or more people make a plan to commit an unlawful act, and take some type of action toward committing it. The action doesn’t have to be a crime itself; it just has to show that the people involved knew about the plan and intended to break the law. A person can be charged with and convicted of both the conspiracy and the crime that was originally planned.
Example: Colin, Doug, and Fran are planning a bank robbery. In the process of their planning, they: go to the bank to plan around security; chip in together to buy guns; and write out a letter to give to the clerk. All three of them can be charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, even though the actual robbery never occurred.
Credit/Debit Card Fraud – Credit/debit card fraud is when someone: obtains, takes, signs, uses, sells, buys, or forges someone else’s credit or debit card or card information under false pretenses; uses their own card, knowing that it is not a valid card; or takes payment from another person with the knowledge that the card being used was illegally obtained.
Disorderly Conduct – Nearly every state has a disorderly conduct law, making it a crime to be drunk in public, disturb the peace or loiter in specific spots. There are a lot of different types of unruly behavior that can fit the definition of disorderly conduct. The purpose of such statutes is as a “catch-all” law. Police will usually charge a person with disorderly conduct to be able to keep the peace if that person is behaving in an undesirable way, but is of no serious danger.
Domestic Violence – Domestic violence constitutes inflicting physical or mental harm on a member of your household or family (most commonly between spouses). The actual crime charged would vary, based on factors such as: the severity of the victim’s injuries, if there was a minor present and whether a restraining order was violated in the process.
Drug Cultivation and Manufacturing – Specific drug laws make it a crime to grow or possess plants and other natural elements used to produce unlawful controlled substances, such as marijuana plants and seeds; and to manufacture any illegal controlled substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD and Ecstasy.
Drug Distribution/Trafficking – Drug distribution/trafficking is the selling, transportation or illegal import of any unlawful controlled substances into the United States. Federal and state drug distribution/trafficking laws and punishments will vary depending on the type of drug, amount, area of distribution and if minors were targeted.
Drug Possession – Drug possession laws make it illegal to knowingly possess any illegal substances (marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, “club drugs” and heroin, for example). The laws also state that the possession of the chemicals used for making the drugs and accessories related to drug use is also a crime. Possession of smaller quantities is usually considered simple possession, while possessing large amounts can result in being charged with possession with intent to distribute.
Kidnapping – Kidnapping is, most commonly, taking a person somewhere against their will, or confining a person within a specified place. If a parent has no custody rights, they can be charged with kidnapping if they take their own child.
Manslaughter: Involuntary – Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing resulting from reckless or negligent behavior, or an act that is considered a minor felony, like a DUI. The main distinction of an involuntary manslaughter is the victim’s death is unintentional.
Example: Fred gets behind the wheel of his car while intoxicated. While driving, he starts to speed and swerve, and accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. Fred can then be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Manslaughter: Voluntary – Voluntary manslaughter differs from involuntary manslaughter, in that the victim’s death is intentional. However, voluntary manslaughter is not planned ahead of time. These killings are often referred to as “heat of passion” murders. Circumstances that cause the killing to occur must be the kind that would make an otherwise reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally unbalanced.
Example, George comes home from work and finds his wife cheating on him with another man. An argument ensues, and an enraged George takes a baseball bat from the garage and strikes the other man in the head, killing him. Due to the circumstances, George would be charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Murder: First Degree – First-degree murder is a killing that is premeditated, meaning it was committed after careful thought and planning.
Example: Harold is cheated out of a large sum of money by a business partner. After planning for five days, Harold waits for his business partner in a parking garage and shoots him. Harold would then be charged with first-degree murder.
Most states also have what is called the “felony murder rule.” Under this rule, first-degree murder is committed if a death (even accidental) results from committing certain felonies like arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape or robbery.
Example: Sharon sets fire to a warehouse that she thought was empty. However, the fire kills a night watchman who was unable to get out in time. Under the felony murder rule, Sharon would be charged with first-degree murder for the night watchman’s death, even though it was accidental.
Murder: Second degree – Second-degree murder is an intentional killing that is not premeditated, nor is it committed in a reasonable “heat of passion” moment; or a killing due to dangerous conduct and the killer’s carelessness for human life. The best way to think of second-degree would be as somewhere between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Perjury – Perjury laws make it illegal to knowingly tell a lie after you have taken an oath to be truthful, most commonly when testifying in a court. Usually to be considered perjury, the lie must be pertinent to the matter at hand, although perjury can also be committed if you even sign a document knowing that it contains false statements.
Robbery – Robbery is defined as theft through the use of actual physical force or threat of violence against the victim. If a weapon is used or the victim is injured, the robbery is considered “armed” or “aggravated.” Robbery, unlike burglary, requires that there be an actual victim present who suffers injury or is threatened with harm.
Sexual Assault – Specifics may vary from state to state, but sexual assault is generally any crime that the victim is subjected to unwanted sexual touching. Common crimes in which sexual assault can occur range from sexual groping or assault/battery, to attempted rape.
Theft/Larceny – Theft/larceny is taking almost anything of value, without the consent of the owner. Most states have degrees of theft, like “grand” or “petty.” The degrees usually have a relation to the value of what was taken.