For your liberty!
James Eyer
Candidate for U.S. Congress District 9

FAQ: Definition of Crime


In general terms crime involves acts that infringe on the liberty and well being of other persons. To be more specific, crime** includes the following acts:
  • physical harm: assault, rape, murder
  • threats (to commit crime) or harassment
  • theft
  • fraud, breach of contract
  • property damage
  • trespassing
  • slander or libel
        **For this document, the term "crime" is used generically as is the term
            "harm." Actually, some of the acts listed involve torts for which
            victims seek remedy in the form of damages in civil court.

In technical (legal) terms, criminal acts (crime) can be broken down into two categories:

  1. acts which are inherently evil or "wrong in themselves" (mala in se) such as murder and theft
  2. and

  3. acts that society and/or government prohibit because of current public sentiments, custom, or cultural or religious standards (mala prohibita). These acts often include gambling, drug use and drug "enterprise," and prostitution.

Perspective and Observations

Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility and accountability form the base for our freedom. Quite simply, for our system to work people who do not act responsibly (i.e., people who engage in activities that harm others) must not be allowed to infringe on other peoples’ liberty. People who commit crime must be held accountable; that is the primary purpose for our government.

Acts listed above are crimes, whether those acts are intentional or whether they occur due to negligence.

Morality-based Crime

Libertarians believe that government does not have authority to establish a moral code.

  • that is a religious, spiritual, or personal matter
  • invariably that enables authoritarian leaders who do not respect liberty
  • it really is impossible to legislate human nature
  • morality-based laws divert resources from efforts to prevent crime involving victims
  • inconsistent application of morality-based laws engender disregard for laws in general
  • government's role does not include sparing citizens from being offended

Furthermore, behavior that does not include the list of criminal acts listed above and that involves consenting adults is not a crime.

Protecting Me from Myself

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.
      - Elbert Hubbard.

Many laws prohibit acts or behavior because the person doing the prohibited act or behavior may be harmed.

Using that same rationale, surely it seems logical to criminalize insufficient exercise and high fat and/or "junk food" diets. These criminal acts are especially troublesome if "perpetrated" by parents on their children or by people with an existing medical condition such as diabetes or obesity.

Also consider persons who live in places with high levels of air pollution. They intentionally and with forthought cause harm to themselves and to their children; harm that is totally avoidable.

Perhaps "extreme" or "very dangerous" sports activities such as ice and rock climbing, dog sledding, surfing where sharks lurk, and even boxing and football should be prohibited because injury is likely and death is possible.

And how can we leave out tanning which is known to cause melanoma? What about body piercing and other types of "body enhancements" which often result in infection and disfigurement?

Black Markets

All too often criminalizing an act or behavior has the unintended consequence of creating a "black market."

There is probably no better example of black market effects than those associated with the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Prohibition lead to the rise of organized crime, gangs, drive-by shootings and bloody turf wars; not to mention the significant erosion of personal freedom.

Another example of the black market effect is the resurgence of cigarette "bootlegging" and smuggling. This occurs because "sin taxes" artificially increase the potential profit for smugglers.

Drugs are perhaps the best example today: illegal drug "enterprises" can make huge profits because drugs are black market goods. These drug enterprises are enabled because drugs are illegal.

Of course such drug enterprises do actually engage in crime, often violent crime. However, most of that crime would not occur if the drug enterprise had no reason to exist (i.e., there was no excessive black market "profits").

Also, burglaries and robberies are committed, and violence is perpetrated, by drug users as a way to pay for artificially expensive black market products. Most of those crimes occur because drugs are illegal and as a result, they are very expensive.

So, approximately 80% of what is categorized as drug-related crime

  1. is related to activities associated with the drug enterprise (business)
  2. involves harm caused when drug users commit crimes so they can pay for expensive black market drugs
Conversely, less than 20% of what is categorized as drug-related crime involves harm caused due to drug use; such as drug use that results in automobile crashes (negligence).

The bottom line: at least 80% of "drug-related" crime occurs because of black market dynamics – a reflection of economics and human nature. It should be obvious, but economics and human nature cannot be legislated.

Longer Incarceration Periods, More Consistent
Consequences for Crime

We need longer incarceration periods for actual criminals, especially those committing violent crimes. We also need to use modern, enlightened approaches to punish non-violent offenders (drug, financial, and property related crimes) that allow them to be productive contributors to society rather than living off of the taxpayers. Ideally we would end the ineffective war on drugs entirely.

For incarceration to be effective it should be done for public safety. Incarceration will not help if it is based on retribution or retaliation.

All too often punishment varies for different persons committing the same criminal act. That is a clear violation of the principle of equal protection. In addition, for punishment to be effective it must be based on more consistent criteria than we use. Criminals must know that a specific, appropriate price will be paid for crime. This is a very compelling matter that must be addressed if we are to maintain the fundamental bases for our wonderful system including principles of justice.

It is wholly unacceptable that a blundered attempt to commit a crime is not considered to be as serious as actually accomplishing a crime. Why should someone who attempts to commit murder serve less than ten years in prison when a person that accomplishes a similar murder might serve twenty years to life?

Selected Wisdom from Others

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned...is the sum of good government, and all that is necessary...
      - Thomas Jefferson.

…tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. [T]hose who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.
      - C. S. Lewis.

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
      - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty 1859.

rev 7/24/04