What Is a Victimless Crime?
There are some laws on the books that don’t seem to harm anyone, but violating those laws is still illegal. Some people consider credit card fraud or insurance fraud to be “victimless” because the only real victims are big corporations. However, other crimes seem to leave no victims behind because everyone involved is consenting. While you may think of these as victimless crimes, the courts disagree.
A “victimless crime” is an illegal criminal act that only involves participants who consent to the activity. The views on these crimes are often based on social standards or community standards of what should or should not be against the law. However, the fact that no one was harmed against their will is not generally a legal defense.
Who is the victim when someone grows their own marijuana, never sells or shares it with anyone, and only consumes it at home? Who is the victim when two consenting adults agree to have sex in exchange for some money? The police and prosecutor may argue that society is somehow the victim or there are indirect victims of the crime. Even if the offense does not seem to harm anyone, the law allows for the arrest and prosecution of the offender.
Also known as complaintless crimes, police officers still crack down on minor offenses that do not have any direct or identifiable victims. Some examples of victimless or complaintless crimes include:
- Drug use and drug possession
- Public drunkenness
- Illegal gambling
- Commercial sex or prostitution
- Assisted suicide
- Possession of contraband
- Public nudity
Historically, many acts were illegal because they were considered immoral. Past laws considered immoral included criminal laws against homosexuality or interracial marriage. These victimless crimes only changed after legal challenges and a change in social attitudes. However, the laws vary by state, and some states allow activities that other states still consider illegal. This includes criminal law regarding:
- Marijuana use and cultivation: Medical marijuana is now legal in the majority of states, and many states allow recreational marijuana use.
- Assisted suicide: About 10 states have “death with dignity” laws.
- Prostitution: Nevada is the only state to allow solicitation, and only within certain counties.
- Prohibition of alcohol: Prohibition ended in 1933, but many counties and municipalities in the U.S. still ban the sale of alcohol.
Some states may selectively criminalize unlawful acts, based on the situation or setting. For example, a group of friends playing a poker game may be committing illegal gambling, but the state may allow gambling as a commercial enterprise in a casino or through the state lottery.
Many people in the U.S. still consider some of these victimless offenses to be wrong or immoral. It is much the same in other countries, where it also seems clear that politicians create these laws to criminalize behavior without real consideration of justice or whether anyone was being harmed. In other countries, it may be a criminal offense to:
- Drink alcohol
- Possess pornography
- Criticize the government
- Be transgender
In most cases, you can not put forward the defense that there were no other victims of the crime. However, entrapment may be a defense if police enticed you into participating in criminal activity and you would not have done so otherwise. Entrapment is an often misunderstood legal defense, so it is important to understand how it works before relying on this defense strategy. Talk to your criminal defense attorney for advice on the best legal defense in your case.
Entrapment occurs when a law-abiding person is convinced to commit a crime they would otherwise not have committed. Entrapment can occur through threats, coercion, harassment, or fraud. However, an undercover officer offering the opportunity to commit a crime is generally not considered entrapment.
For example, if an undercover officer tells you that they knew where to get drugs and you gave the officer money to buy drugs, this is not entrapment. However, if the officer told you to sell drugs for them or the officer would harm your family, that could be considered entrapment.
Another criminal defense may include a defendant’s lack of knowledge about the criminal activity or victims. For example, receiving stolen goods is generally only against the law if you know or reasonably should have known the goods were stolen. If you did not know the goods were stolen, you never would have thought whether there might be a victim.
It may not seem fair that you are being punished for something that didn’t cause anyone any harm. Even if it involves a victimless crime, you may still face serious consequences. You may have several criminal defense options to help you avoid a criminal conviction, however. Contact a criminal defense lawyer for legal advice and assistance.
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