Violent crimes are those that invoke fear in the common citizen. Violent offenses usually contain some element of force or a threat of force against a person. Some jurisdictions classify offenses as violent crimes if the crime involves a strong likelihood of psychological trauma to the victim. An example of this is the classification of residential burglary as a violent offense in the State of Virginia.
The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime. – Max Stirner
Violent Crimes at the Federal Level
When it comes to defining a violent crime, there is always debate as to where to draw the line between a regular felony offense and one that is violent. This is because violent crimes are seen as much more serious then regular felony offenses. The federal government has enacted provisions to try to define violent crimes and to set minimum penalties for those who commit them.
The Armed Career Criminal Act
Violent crimes are also known as “violent felonies.” The Armed Career Criminal Act or “ACCA” is a federal law that says that an offender who has three prior convictions for violent felonies and uses a firearm or explosive to commit a crime must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
This led to the question “what constitutes a violent felony?”
The Supreme Court defines "Violent Felony"
In the case of DePierre v. U.S , the Supreme Court set out to answer the question of what constitutes a violent felony for purposes of the ACCA. The Court held that if a crime is punishable by over one year in prison and the crime involves a burglary, arson, extortion or use of explosives, the crime is labeled a violent felony. But a violent felony may also be unspecified conduct that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”
The Standard Today
Since its decision in DePierre, the federal government has continued to list crimes that are considered “violent.” Violent crimes are seen as those that can cause serious bodily injury to another person. Also included are regular crimes in which a firearm was used. The most common violent felonies at the federal level are
- Bank Robbery
- Sexual Assault
- Crimes Against Children
- Acts of Terrorism
This is not an entire list of federal crimes considered violent by the government. But the general rule is that if it really hurts another person or if a firearm is involved, the crime is one of violence and can carry heavier sanctions.
Violent Crimes at the State Level
Most states have a much broader definition of a violent crime or violent felony offense. As mentioned above, a violent crime can be any crime that actually causes harm to another person or one that causes psychological trauma. States also include charges that are considered offensive to us as American citizens.
The following is a list of crimes considered to be violent under State standards.
Violent Crimes that Harm
- Aggravated Assault or Aggravated Battery
- Crimes involving the use of a Firearm
- Sexual Battery
- Arson (when it involves death or injury to persons inside)
Violent Crimes that Cause Trauma
- Sexual Assault
- Arson (when it is damage to property)
- Hate Crimes or Bullying Crimes
Fear follows crime, and is its punishment. – Voltaire
When a person is found guilty of a violent crime at the State level the penalties are more severe. In jurisdictions that use scoresheets to determine an offender’s sentence, a violent offense will usually score mandatory prison time even if the offender has no prior arrests or convictions. This is especially true if a firearm is used.
How Can a Firearm Enhance a Felony to a Violent Felony?