Crime refers to many types of misconduct forbidden by law. Crimes include such things as murder, stealing a car, resisting arrest, possessing or selling illegal drugs, appearing nude on a public street, drunken driving, and bank robbery. The list of acts considered crimes is constantly changing. For example, at one time, people were charged with witchcraft, but this is no longer illegal. Today, it is becoming a serious crime to pollute the air and water. In colonial days, pollution received little attention because it caused few problems. During the 1700's in England it was not a crime for people to steal money entrusted to their care by an employer. Today, this type of theft, embezzlement, is a crime.
Crimes may be classified in various ways. For example, they sometimes are grouped according to the seriousness of the offense, according to the motives of the offenders. Such crimes may include economic crimes, political crimes, crimes of passion, organized crime, and white collar crime. Crimes are often divided between acts that most people would consider evil and acts that lawmakers decide should be regulated in the interest of the community. The first group includes such major crimes as arson, assault, breach of the peace, burglary, kidnapping, larceny, murder, rape, and robbery. The second group includes crimes of a "rapidly growing urban society." These crimes include violations of income tax laws, liquor control regulations, pure food and drug laws, and traffic laws. Crimes in the first group usually involve severe punishments while crimes in the second group are generally punished by fines, notices to follow the court's orders, or other relatively light penalties.
Crimes are frequently classified according to their seriousness as felonies or misdemeanors. Generally, felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. Under the federal criminal law system, felonies are crimes for which the punishment is death or imprisonment for more than a year. A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine or by imprisonment for less than a year. In most states persons convicted of felonies are sent to state prisons, while those quilty of misdemeanors serve their sentence in city or county jails or houses of correction.
Crimes against people include assault, kidnapping, murder, and sexual attacks. Such crimes usually bring severe punishments. Crimes against property include arson, automobile theft, burglary, embezzlement, forgery, fraud, larceny, and vandalism. In most cases, these crimes carry lighter penalties than do crimes against persons. Robbery is the crime most difficult to classify. The law considers robbery a crime against the person or against the property, according to the case. Robbery may involve simply taking property from another person. But a personal encounter occurs between the robber and his victim, and it may include violence and bodily harm, especially in muggings or other strong- arm robberies. Robbery is probably the crime most people have in mind when they speak of "crime in the streets ."
Crimes against public order or morality include disorderly conduct, gambling, prostitution, public drunkenness, and vagrancy. These offenses generally involve lighter penalties than do crimes against people or property. Criminologists question whether some offenses against public order or morality should be considered crimes. For example, many experts believe that habitual drunkenness is a medical problem and that the offender should be given medical help instead of being put in jail. There is also widespread disagreement about whether certain practices hurt society and should be considered crimes. Such acts include gambling, use of marijuana, and homosexuality between consenting adults.
Organized crime consists of large-scale activities by groups of gangsters or racketeers. Such groups are often called the "crime syndicate or the underworld." Organized crime specializes in providing...