Crimes against public order

Crimes against public order often register the highest number of cases each year in the United States. Such crimes can vary widely in the extent of their criminality, but its perpetrators are all liable to legal prosecution. Public order crimes are also referred to by other terms, such as “consensual crime, victimless vice, crimes without victims, or victimless crime”. According to noted criminologist Siegel, crimes against public order are defined as “”crime which involves acts that interfere with the operations of society and the ability of people to function efficiently.” (Siegel, 2006) Although vague in its definition and its identification arbitrary to the legal professionals, it is nevertheless important to keep a check on such crimes. The rest of this essay will explore in detail some of the common crimes that fall under this category.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is one of the frequently occuring public order crimes in the country. Commonly referred to as “drunk-driving”, this crime is said to have caused 18,000 road accident deaths in the year 2006 alone. In the same year close to 300,000 people were injured as a result of DWI. Usually, the traffic police officer patrolling a region will intercept an over-speeding or wayward vehicle and will ascertain if the driver has consumed alcohol. If the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is above the allowed value of 0.01, then the driver can be booked for breaching the law. In the United States, punishment for this crime can vary depending on the consequences. If the crime had led to fatalities and injuries to others, then the guilty can even be sent to jail. For consequences that are not so grave, the guilty can be let off with a warning or a fine. Repeat offenders are often banned from driving for a stipulated period. Usually, DWI cases do to go to trial in a court of law, as the evidence available to the reporting officer is quite straight forward.

Crimes against the administration of government are bigger in its implication than other crimes of the category. Defining and charging someone with this crime is rather complex, for many of the progressive measures in American society have come as a result of such apparent ‘crimes’. For example, the mass civil disobedience undertaken by American citizens during the Suffragette movement and the Civil Rights movement would technically qualify as crimes against public order. But without such movements our society would have stagnated. Hence, dealing with this crime is a delicate and complex matter. Notwithstanding this ambiguous situation, crimes such as sedition and treason are indeed grave and the laws pertaining to it are correctly punitive of those found guilty. For example,

“the United States has had numerous laws relating to treason in the form of numerous Alien and Sedition Acts. The sedition law now in effect is the Smith Act of 1940 which was made binding on the government in 1956 by the Supreme Court. The Smith Act, like all previous acts in this area, has been both narrowly and broadly interpreted in guiding who or what the government can investigate and prosecute.” (Conklin, 2007)

The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 has drawn a lot of attention from political commentators for it widens the list of activities that are considered as crimes against administration of government. In addition to that, the Act has withdrawn a few fundamental rights from American citizens, such as the right to privacy and confidentiality. Individuals can be detained indefinitely under this act without getting access to legal counsel and the due process of law. As of now there is no consensus as to the overall merit of the Patriot Act and its effectiveness in reducing crimes against public order.

Prostitution, though considered a crime by law, has been in existence from the beginning of human civilization. Hence it continues to thrive in the country despite vigilance from law enforcement authorities. And when compared to the aforementioned crimes against public order, prostitution is deemed a crime due to connotations of immorality attached to it. In practical terms though, it has very little effect on public order. The same applies to crimes such as obscenity and lewdness, which are not even considered as crimes by some. For example, what is obscene for one individual might be perfectly normal for another individual. And there is the conflict between suppressing obscenity and lewdness and encouraging freedom of speech and expression. Hence laws in the United States pertaining to obscenity and lewdness are very weak. (Siegel, 2006)

And finally, it is true that certain crimes against public order such as treason and sedition should be treated harshly. So too should drunk-driving be deterred, for it can lead to fatalities. But crimes such as prostitution should be decriminalized, for there is no coercion or force in an act of consensual sex between two adults. So too should lewdness and obscenity should be decriminalized, for they interfere with the right to freedom of speech and expression.


Garoupa, Nuno & Klerman, Daniel. (2002). “Optimal Law Enforcement with a Rent-Seeking Government”. American Law and Economics Review Vol. 4, No. 1. pp116–140.

Siegel, Larry J. (2006). Criminology: Theories, Patterns, & Typologies, 9th edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0-495-00572-X
Conklin, John E. (2007). Criminology. 6th edition. Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 0-205-26478-6