Brief Definitions of Common Criminal Offenses

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.