Personal Crimes

What is a Personal Crime?

In the law and criminal justice enterprise, there are several different kinds of crime. For example:

  • Crimes against the state, in other words, crimes against the federal, state, or local government like treason or espionage.
  • Property crimes including vandalism and arson.
  • Personal crimes, which are committed by an offender against another person. Examples of these crimes include homicide, manslaughter, assault, battery, rape, sexual assault, and more.

In a personal crime, the victims themselves are directly harmed, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, by the offender. Personal crimes are the crimes most associated with violence against victims. For example, homicide is the willful killing of a person while murder is the unlawful willful killing of a person.

Homicide can be lawful. A police officer who kills someone using the lawful amount of force in a justified situation has committed a homicide. A lawfully armed homeowner defending him- or herself during a home invasion is also lawful homicide.

Murder, however, is never justified. Murder involves a mens rea, or criminal intent, in which the person planned on killing the victim, either ahead of time, known as ‘premeditation’, or in the spur of the moment. This ‘spur of the moment’ murder is sometimes known as ‘in the heat of passion’.

Another term for the unlawful killing of an individual is manslaughter. There are many different definitions of manslaughter depending on local statutes of the jurisdiction, but is generally the unintentional killing of a person due to an intentional act of negligence. Think of Sam, a drunk driver who got in an accident and killed someone else. Sam did not intend to kill anyone when he got in the car, but his act of intentional negligence (driving drunk) led to an unintentional and unlawful killing.

Or say a company CEO, Marcia, tries to save money by intentionally neglecting to provide her employees with the required safety equipment to complete their job. If someone is killed on the job due to the lack of personal protective equipment, then the company, Marcia, or both could be charged with manslaughter.

Not every personal crime involves the taking of a life, for example, assault and battery.

  • Assault, when it’s a separate crime, usually involves an attempt to commit a battery or causing someone to fear for their physical safety from an attack of some kind.
  • Battery generally involves unlawful touching from an offender to a victim involving being struck, kicked, or otherwise. An ‘aggravated assault’ or ‘aggravated battery’ usually involves some form of weapon, such as a firearm or knife.

Perhaps one of the most despicable personal crimes is rape or sexual assault. Rape can be roughly defined as the forcible sexual penetration of a victim by an offender with either a part of the offender’s body (e.g., penis) or by other means. Sexual assault can generally be summarized as the unlawful touching of a victim by an offender to satisfy some sexual desire of the offender.

Other personal crimes include kidnapping, false imprisonment, and robbery. The important distinction of personal crimes is that the offense occurs against an actual person and not their property. That offense can be physical, mental, or emotional.

Note that these crimes can all be called different things based on the jurisdictions and statutes involved. For example, homicide and murder may be synonymous in one jurisdiction but not in another. There may be varying degrees of murder, such as premeditated murder, first-degree murder, or second-degree murder.

Manslaughter may be called voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or negligent homicide. A thorough examination of specific statutes within specific jurisdictions will be needed to ensure an understanding of the criminal statutes.

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