Common Criminal Offenses Defined

Here are short descriptions of actions deemed illegal by state or federal law

Handcuffed man standing in courtroom

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Crimes can be committed against persons or property, but all crimes carry a punishment for those who break the law. Federal, state, and local governments pass laws to establish what is acceptable behavior and what is illegal within society. Following are some common crimes, both felonies, and misdemeanors, with general explanations attached:

Accessory
People are accessories when they solicit, request, command, pursue, or intentionally aid another person to engage in conduct constituting an illegal action.

Aggravated Assault
Aggravated assault is causing or attempting to cause serious bodily harm to another or using a deadly weapon during a crime. 

Aiding and Abetting
Aiding and abetting occurs when a person willfully "aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures" the commission of a crime. 

Arson
Arson is when a person intentionally burns a structure, building, land, or property.

Assault
Criminal assault is defined as an intentional act that results in a person becoming fearful of imminent bodily harm.

Battery
Battery is any unlawful physical contact with another person, including offensive touching.

Bribery
Bribery is the act of offering or receiving compensation for the purpose of influencing any person who is responsible for performing a public or legal duty.

Burglary
A burglary occurs when someone illegally enters almost any kind of structure for the purpose of committing an illegal act.

Child Abuse
Child abuse is any act or failure to act that results in the harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Child Pornography
Child pornography includes the possession, production, distribution, or sale of sexual images or videos that exploit or portray children.

Computer Crime
Computer crime is "any illegal act for which knowledge of computer technology is essential for successful prosecution."

Conspiracy
Conspiracy occurs when two or more people plan a crime with the intent of committing that crime.

Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud is committed when a person uses a credit or debit card illegally to obtain funds from an account or to get merchandise or services without paying.

Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct is a broad term charging anyone whose behavior is a public nuisance.

Disturbing the Peace
Disturbing the peace involves behavior that disturbs the overall order of a public place or gathering.

Domestic Violence
Domestic violence occurs when one member of a household inflicts bodily harm upon another member of that household.

Drug Cultivation or Manufacturing
Drug cultivation or manufacturing is illegally cultivating, producing, or possessing plants, chemicals, or equipment used for the purpose of producing drugs.

Drug Possession
Drug possession occurs when someone willfully possesses any illegal controlled substance.

Drug Trafficking or Distribution
Both a federal and state crime, drug distribution includes selling, transporting, or importing illegal controlled substances.

Drunk Driving
Drunk driving occurs when a person operates a motorized vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Embezzlement
Embezzlement occurs when a responsible party misappropriates money or property entrusted to them.

Extortion
Extortion occurs when someone obtains money, property, or services through an act of coercion.

Forgery
Forgery includes falsifying documents or signatures or faking an object of value with the purpose of committing fraud.

Fraud
Fraud is committed when a person uses deception or misrepresentation for financial or personal gain.

Harassment
Harassment is unwanted behavior intended to annoy, disturb, alarm, torment, upset, or terrorize an individual or group.

Hate Crime
Hate crime is a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

Identity Theft
Identity theft includes "all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain."

Insurance Fraud
Insurance fraud occurs when a person attempts to obtain payment from an insurance company under false premises.

Kidnapping
Kidnapping is committed when a person is illegally confined or moved from one place to another against their will.

Money Laundering
Money laundering occurs when someone attempts to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of proceeds of illegal actions.

Murder
Usually classified as first-degree or second-degree, murder is the willful taking of another person's life.

Perjury
Perjury occurs when a person gives false information while under oath.

Prostitution
Prostitution occurs when a person is compensated in exchange for a sexual act.

Public Intoxication
Someone drunk or under the influence of drugs in a public place can be charged with public intoxication.

Rape
Rape occurs when someone forces sexual contact with another person without their consent.

Robbery
Robbery involves stealing from another person by the use of physical force or by putting the victim in fear of death or injury. 

Sexual Assault
Although definitions vary by state, generally it occurs when a person or persons commit a sexual act without the consent of the victim.

Shoplifting
Shoplifting is stealing merchandise from a retail store or business.

Solicitation
Solicitation is offering compensation for goods or services prohibited by law. 

Stalking
Stalking occurs when a person, over time, follows, harasses, or watches another person.

Statutory Rape
Statutory rape occurs when an adult has sex with someone under the age of consent, which varies by state.

Tax Evasion
Tax evasion involves taking deliberate actions to conceal or misrepresent a person's or business's income, profits, or financial gains or to inflate or falsify tax deductions.

Theft
Theft is a general term describing forms of larceny, including burglary, looting, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and criminal conversion.

Vandalism
Vandalism occurs when a person intentionally damages property that does not belong to them.

Wire Fraud
Almost always a federal crime, wire fraud is an illegal activity taking place over any interstate wires for the purpose of committing fraud.