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
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
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 illegal goods and
services. Its activities include gambling, prostitution, the illegal sale of
drugs, and loaning money at extremely high rates of interest. Many of these
activities are often called ?victimless crimes? because both the buyer and the
seller take part in them willingly. Most activities of the crime syndicate are
not reported to the police. People who use the illegal services try to avoid
the police because they do not want to be associated with that kind of people.
When the crime syndicate invades a legitimate business or labor union, it uses
terror, blackmail, and other methods to keep people from going to the police.
Even when the illegal activities are discovered, prosecutors have difficulty
convicting the gangsters because of the lack of reliable witnesses. In addition,
the syndicate frequently tries to bribe witnesses or law officers and sometimes
succeeds in doing so. The syndicate also furnishes bail money and lawyers for
members who are arrested. Gangsters have two main goals and they are money and
power. No one knows how much of each that they truly have, but investigations
have shown that organized crime is a multimillion-dollar business and that
gangsters have considerable