Although there are many different kinds of crimes, criminal acts can generally be divided into four primary categories: personal crimes, property crimes, inchoate crimes, statutory crimes, and financial crimes.
Personal crimes are those that result in physical or mental harm to another person. They can be divided into two main categories, forms of homicide and other violent crimes. Where the physical harm to another individual is so severe that it causes death, a defendant may be charged with any one of several types of homicide, including, for example, first-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or vehicular homicide. Conversely violent crimes, which are also very severe, include:
Property crimes typically involve interference with the property of another. Although they may involve physical or mental harm to another, they primarily result in the deprivation of the use or enjoyment of property. Many property crimes are theft crimes, including burglary, larceny, robbery, auto theft, and shoplifting.
Inchoate crimes refer to those crimes that were initiated but not completed, and acts that assist in the commission of another crime. Inchoate crimes require more than a person simply intending or hoping to commit a crime. Rather, the individual must take a “substantial step” towards the completion of the crime in order to be found guilty. Inchoate crimes include aiding and abetting, attempt, and conspiracy. In some cases, inchoate crimes can be punished to the same degree that the underlying crime would be punished, while in other cases, the punishment might be less severe.
Statutory crimes include those crimes, in addition to the crimes discussed above, which are proscribed by statute. Three significant types of statutory crimes are alcohol related crimes, drug crimes, traffic offenses, and financial/white collar crimes. These crimes are specifically prohibited by statute because society hopes to deter individuals from engaging in them. Alcohol-related crimes include a variety of offenses regarding how and where alcohol can be consumed, such as:
Drug crimes concern any involvement in the creation or distribution of drugs, including drug possession, drug manufacturing, and drug trafficking. One area of criminal law that is currently receiving a great deal of attention is the regulation and prosecution of drug crimes related to medical marijuana. Due to state trends toward the legalization of medical marijuana, this is an area of criminal law that is in flux.
Traffic offenses include crimes that may arise while an individual is driving a vehicle on public roadways. Because a DUI/OWI/DWI involves both alcohol and the use of a vehicle, it is considered both an alcohol related crime and a traffic offense. Additional traffic offenses include driving on a suspended or revoked license, driving without a license, hit-and-run accidents, reckless driving, and vehicular assault. Where a traffic offense results in death, it can be charged as a far more serious crime, such as a form of homicide.
Finally, financial crimes often involve deception or fraud for financial gain. Although white-collar crimes derive their name from the corporate officers who historically perpetrated them, anyone in any industry can commit a white-collar crime. These crimes include many types of fraud and blackmail, embezzlement and money laundering, tax evasion, and cybercrime.