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What Are Some Examples of Victimless Crimes?

Is there such a thing as a victimless crime? Yes. Criminal justice laws are created by the government to restrict unwanted behavior and actions. Many of these criminal laws are meant to protect others, such as laws against assault or abuse. However, a number of laws criminalize consensual behavior or actions where there are no victims. This may include laws against recreational drug use or prostitution.

Unfortunately, the courts and judges do not always take into account whether a crime is victimless when enforcing laws. However, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced sentence or lesser penalties by showing the court that there was no identifiable victim. Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for legal advice in your case.

What Are Victimless Crimes?

A victimless crime is generally an illegal criminal act that does not have an identifiable victim. This generally includes actions that only involve the perpetrator or something voluntary between consenting adults. Victimless crimes are also known as crimes against the state that do not harm society.

The police may claim that there is no such thing as a victimless crime, but is that really true? There are laws in other countries that prohibit criticism of the government, which criminalizes free speech. Other countries criminalize consensual behavior like same-sex relationships or drinking alcohol. Many of the laws that criminalize harmless behavior are based on opinions about morality.

Examples of Victimless Crimes

There is no set definition of a victimless crime, and each person may have a different opinion about whether a criminal offense is actually victimless. Some of the common examples of actions that may be called victimless crimes include:

There is often a fine line between what is considered a crime or not. For example, going to Las Vegas and playing poker for money is legal. However, playing a poker game for money in another state may be illegal gambling. Smoking recreational marijuana is legal in states like California and Oregon, but doing the same thing in Alabama could get you thrown in jail. State criminal laws and regional attitudes can make a big difference in whether victimless activities are against the law or permissible.


Prostitution is legal in many countries. It’s even legal in parts of Nevada. However, in the rest of the U.S., solicitation of sexual acts in exchange for money is against the law. Criminalizing sex work does not eliminate the act but drives it underground. When treated as a crime, sex workers may be less willing to come forward to report more serious offenses, like violence or sexual assault.

Assisted Suicide

There are many terminal diseases or debilitating conditions that leave patients suffering needlessly. For many of these people, suicide may be the best way to die with dignity. In states with assisted suicide laws, these people can make the decision to die on their own terms instead of continuing to suffer. However, in most states, suicide and assisted suicide is against the law. Prohibition of end-of-life care decisions can end up victimizing the person the laws are meant to protect.

Recreational Drug Use and Possession

The attitudes toward drug use are changing in the U.S. Not long ago, drugs like marijuana were illegal in all forms in all states. Now, a majority of states have medical marijuana laws, and a number of states are also legalizing marijuana for recreational use. More states are beginning to decriminalize drug possession, treating drug offenses as a substance abuse problem rather than a crime. Categorizing drugs as medically useful or harmful is not always based on science. However, in some states, the victimless crime of marijuana possession can still lead to a prison sentence.


Gambling is one of the most common criminal activities that people do not consider a crime. Betting on a March Madness bracket or Super Bowl pool at work may technically be against the law. A poker game between friends seems harmless, but it may violate state anti-gambling laws. However, state-sanctioned gambling may be totally legal, including the buying of lottery tickets. Many states have exceptions for charitable gaming or tribal casinos.


Homelessness is a major concern in many states. The simple response for many states is to criminalize the actions associated with homelessness instead of addressing the underlying issues. This includes laws against:

  • Loitering
  • Public drunkenness
  • Begging
  • Lying down in public
  • Living in vehicles
  • Sleeping in public
  • Food sharing

Homelessness may be the result of substance abuse, mental health conditions, domestic violence, or even an unexpected medical emergency. Criminalizing homelessness is a temporary measure that does not do anything to help those in need.