Before modern etiquette, society operated lawlessly; only those with the physical power to protect themselves and their families were truly safe. Eventually, our ancestors began to work together and found significant benefits. Following soon after, the emergence of law occurred—and with it came crimes. However, not all crimes are as black and white as an assailant and victim. The existence of victimless crimes, for example, can make appropriate reparations confusing and frustrating.
Below are seven examples of victimless crimes; the consequences of these crimes change based on many factors. The two most crucial determining aspects come from (1) where the crime took place and (2) the offender’s history. For example, the consequences of prostitution in Nevada will look very different from the crime in Louisiana. At the same time, those with a criminal history incur incrementally more significant consequences—to a felony. Check your local laws for detailed information.
What Is a Victimless Crime?
When someone thinks of a crime, we first picture a familiar scene: a carjacking, robbery, assault, or shooting. These events are crimes involving harm or injury to a second or third party. They involve various degrees of intention but always involve removing or violating someone else’s rights. Victimless crimes, in contrast, do not include this caveat; they do not involve violating or removing another person’s rights. Instead, they are a societal deterrent and etiquette enforcer.
Victimless Crime Definition
Victimless crimes are crimes that can happen to oneself or another—equally responsible—party. For most victimless crimes, an element of volition is absent in traditional crimes. The hopeful walking into an illegal gambling room does so willingly, even excitedly. However, there are also times when victimless crimes involve a cruder reading of the word “volition.”
Acts committed by addicts and homelessness all have punishable elements in the eyes of the state; however, none of these life events necessarily involve willingness. The compulsions of addicts are no more willing actions than those who suffer homelessness. Yet, depending on the state, the offender faces infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies despite the crime not having a victim.
7 Examples of Victimless Crimes
As a word, “homelessness” is an umbrella term that encompasses numerous victimless criminal behaviors. For example, depending on the state, begging, sleeping in public, and living out of one’s vehicle are all chargeable offenses. A person may suffer homelessness but not engage in chargeable crimes like public drunkenness. Another common “homeless” crime is loitering—waiting around hurts no one directly, yet people are charged yearly for the crime.
Anti-homeless laws are the equivalent of a stop-and-frisk policy. They disproportionately impact those already in sensitive situations based on many factors. These determining factors may come from an officer’s expectations of interaction and direct rule-breaking within a designated area; only one thing is certain—anti-homeless laws are deterrent laws. They encourage others to behave acceptably.
2. Assigned Suicide
Also called assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide, or medical aid for dying, these laws support those who require it. Assigned suicide is a victimless crime—contrary to its implications. Those who receive services must live in one of the eleven jurisdictions that support it and pass other legal requirements. California, for example, requires a qualifying resident to be 18+; have a terminal disease expected to conclude within 6 months; and be able to make medical decisions with a sound mind. If someone willfully completes an assigned suicide, the party that assisted will catch charges accordingly.
Having existed in every society in some variation since the beginning of time, prostitution is often considered a victimless crime. Although to be clear, traditional crimes like assault can take place during the victimless event. The willful exchange of sexual acts for compensation is legal only in Nevada, within 21 regulated brothels. Everywhere else in the United States, solicitation of any kind is illegal.
Prostitution charges always appear on criminal records without a qualifying expungement court order. Subsequently, those with these charges may face recurring social consequences like dramatically increased fines. As with anti-homeless laws, states with extreme repercussions for solicitation are creating a deterrent for the behavior.
4. Drug Possession and Use
Despite the widespread legalization of marijuana in the United States, it remains a hot topic for debate. Like alcohol, its mind-altering impacts are typically consumed willingly because of how someone ingests it; this makes it a victimless crime in non-blaze-it states. There is more nuance to this than only marijuana, however. Opioids, methamphetamines, and hallucinogens are among the many illegal drugs one could find. Like marijuana, consuming these drugs is typically willful—making the crimes of use and possession victimless.
Similar to drug use, gambling is also typically done willfully. It is called a victimless crime precisely because of the volition of the gambler. The working knowledge that the gambler has about their local laws must be verified continuously as legislature changes. Overnight, the legality of betting on the Super Bowl may change. Some states allow for particular forms of gambling while banning others, making things even more complex. Even in anti-gambling states, tribal casinos may appear—gambling in them is acceptable but illegal outside.
6. Public Drunkenness
Public intoxication is a subsection of anti-homeless law that applies to individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Like solicitation, once these appear regarding someone, the charges appear in public records until a qualifying expungement order. Public drunkenness is illegal in many states, but the identifiers for “drunkenness” change when crossing state borders.
Unlike the other victimless crimes listed, public intoxication has two predictable elements determining if someone gets charged. First, there must be proof of intoxication; secondly, there must be claims that the offending happened within a public or private area without the owner’s permission. Situations that happen on private property without owner permission are considered victimless if there are no damages that occurred.
7. Contraband Possession
Those caught with illegal drugs, non-permitted guns, and some machinery are likely to face contraband possession charges. Depending on the qualifying situation, contraband charges are considered victimless—there is no victim in “holding” contraband. The punishment comes from the court punishing a person for the possible crimes that could have been committed, along with their criminal history; the court tends to increase its consequences for recurring offenders. Legislature looks to aggressively combat contraband by enforcing expensive or long-term deterrent laws.
Don’t Fall Victim to a Victimless Crime Charge
When people think of crimes, their minds may go to the traditional instances; very few may instantly think of anti-homeless laws or gambling. These less-violent crimes are part of a select group of crimes which are victimless. Although victimless crimes hurt no one, they can potentially be expensive or even cause jail time. The best way to avoid being charged for a victimless crime is by researching local laws. Want to learn more about your rights, the legal sphere, crime, tech, and everything else vital to modern life? Check out our infographics, landing pages, other articles, and guides.