Victimless Crime: Criminal Law Basics

Victimless Crime

Victimless crime, also called consensual crime, refers to crime that doesn't directly harm the person or property of another. Victimless crimes are typically not included in the common law, and are considered crimes mala prohibita. Some activities that are considered victimless crimes in a majority of jurisdictions are:

  • drug abuse,
  • bigamy,
  • prostitution,
  • ticket scalping
  • and, with some famous exceptions, gambling.

A lively debate continues as to whether victimless crimes really are "victimless," and some crimes legally regarded as victimless, such as prostitution, stand in the forefront of debate over whether anyone is harmed or not, physically, morally, or otherwise.

Arguments Against Prosecution of Victimless Crime

A common argument for ending prosecution of consensual crimes is that prosecuting these activities causes more harm to society that simply decriminalizing them. A few popular examples cited for this argument are the War on Drugs and its ramifications, overcrowded jails and prisons, and the high cost of prosecuting and punishing people for crimes, which it is argued, cause less damage to society than the "solution." In the United States, estimates tower at $40 billion per year just for prosecuting consensual crimes. This cost is in addition to the costs of incarcerating people who, it is argued, don't belong behind bars to begin with.

Arguments For Prosecution of Victimless Crime

There are several arguments for maintaining the prosecution of victimless crime. There are arguments regarding costs, but the main thrust of maintaining prosecution tends to be rooted in arguing that society as a whole is enhanced by locking up victimless criminal offenders.

One argument runs that, while the cost of additional law enforcement and the prosecution of consensual crime is high, the financial costs that would result from decriminalizing activities such as drug use, unbuckled seat-belts, drunk driving, and possession of some kinds of firearms would be unacceptably high.

Second, it is argued that the cost to the core values of society would be very grave for decriminalizing activities such as prostitution, bigamy and some forms of gambling. It is argued that decriminalization would drastically diminish overall quality of life, inflicting real harm on the fabric of society.

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