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Defining the Different Types of Violent Crime

Part of the Criminology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

In criminology, how a violent crime is approached depends very much on how the crime is defined. So many different legal terms exist for various forms of violent crimes that it’s often hard for people to keep track of what means what. Following are simple yet detailed definitions of some common types of violent crimes:

  • Homicide: The killing of one person by another (regardless of the circumstances).

  • Murder: The intentional killing of another human being.

  • First-degree murder: A term some states use to refer to an intentional killing.

  • Second-degree murder: A term some states use to refer to an unintentional killing in which the killer demonstrates “extreme indifference to human life” or “wanton disregard” for the life of the victim.

  • Felony murder: A term some states use for a death that occurs during the commission of a serious felony, such as robbery or kidnapping. (All participants in such a felony can be charged with murder.)

  • Manslaughter: The unintentional killing of another person, where the killer engages in reckless conduct that causes a death.

  • Negligent homicide: The causing of someone’s death through negligence.

  • Battery: The act of making offensive physical contact with someone.

  • Assault: The threat of a battery, or an attempted battery, without actual physical contact.

  • Simple assault or battery: The act of causing someone low-level — not serious — physical injury.

  • Aggravated assault or battery: Serious felony conduct that involves the use of a dangerous or deadly weapon or that results in serious injury.

  • Vehicular assault: Dangerous driving that results in injury to another.

  • Spousal assault (also called domestic assault or intimate partner violence): Violence between domestic partners.

  • Rape: The act of forcibly compelling someone to have sexual intercourse, or sexual intercourse between an adult and a partner under the age of 18, or the act of having intercourse with someone whom the law deems incapable of consent because of a mental handicap.

  • Sodomy: The act of having forced anal or oral sex with someone, or the consensual act of participating in those same acts between an adult and a juvenile.

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