Consequences of Committing a Crime

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  • 0:01 Crime & Punishment
  • 0:41 Legal Consequences
  • 2:51 Economic Consequences
  • 4:07 Social Consequences
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

For those of you with criminal intentions, take a minute to consider the many consequences of committing a crime. In this lesson, you will explore the legal, economic, and social ramifications of crime, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Crime & Punishment

I wouldn't do that if I were you. Why? Because it's illegal. Haven't you thought about the consequences? Committing a crime violates social and legal rules, so the effects can follow you around for a lifetime.

Now, admittedly there are different types of crimes. Some crimes, like theft, have victims. Others, like drug use, are considered victimless. But, they're all illegal. So, be careful before breaking the law. In legal, economic, and even social terms, the punishment will fit the crime.

Legal Consequences

Let's start by looking at the most obvious consequences of your crime, the legal ones. Under our justice system, the government has a right to punish you for violating the law. This punishment generally comes in one of two forms. The less severe is loss of liberties, or having personal rights revoked. Basically, by breaking the law, you have forfeited some of the rights of being an American citizen.

The most common way we see this is through probation orders, the requirement to behave and to follow court orders. People on probation can be ordered not to drink alcohol, not to cross state borders, not to gamble, to stay away from certain people, and may have privileges, like driving, revoked. People end up on probation in lieu of jail time or after serving part of a jail sentence and being released early. But, it is a serious legal charge. If you disobey the court's rules for your probation, then you're pretty much guaranteed a trip to jail.

And that brings us to the other major form of criminal punishment, loss of freedom, in which a person is removed from the general population. Under our constitution, and pretty much all modern constitutions, the government has the right to take away your freedom if you have committed a serious enough crime. Crimes that have a maximum sentence of less than one year are called misdemeanors, while crimes that have a maximum sentence of at least one year are called felonies, and those are taken very seriously.

When convicted of a felony, not only do you lose your freedom, but you also lose some basic rights of citizenship, such as the right to vote, which is called felony disenfranchisement. The more often you commit crimes, or if the crimes are very serious, then some of these rights, including your basic freedom, could be revoked for the rest of your life. And don't forget that while many states in the USA are moving away from the death penalty, it's still legally an option.

Economic Consequences

Apart from the legal consequences, committing a crime can also have serious economic implications. For one, there's just the obvious cost of paying for a lawyer, court fees, etc. However, the court can also require you to pay fines, or return the value of stolen resources to their original owner, which is called restitution. Victims of a crime can also sue for damages, essentially meaning financial compensation for economic loss or psychological harm. If you can't pay these, then the courts can repossess your house, your car, and pretty much anything else you own.

But, there are other economic consequences, as well. In most states, people who have been convicted of a felony can be denied government subsidies, ranging from food stamps to student loans to federal housing. Don't forget that ex-felons are also required to disclose their charges on job applications, and many states give business owners the right to refuse hiring an applicant based on that fact. I'm not saying these are necessarily fair, but this is the accepted practice in our society.

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