Type of Crime

Type of Crime

CRJ305 Criminology

Colorado State University – Global

There are many different types of crimes that one can commit, some more serious than

others. It is not fully understood why these crimes are committed, but through the years theorists have put together different schools of thought to better explain different types of crime. Two of these schools of thought are the Neoclassical Theory and the Classical Theory. These theories are not in place to suggest the way things ought to be, but to suggest things as they are. So, how do these theories apply to a crime such as assault? In order to answer this, it is important to understand what neoclassical theory and classical theory are.

Hagan (2017) explains that the classical theory is an approach that describes the free will and rationality on the part of the person committing the crime. Through this theory it is assumed that criminals understand exactly what they are doing, and will weigh the pros and cons of their actions. Additionally, some theorists believe that these crimes are motivated by hedonism as well as by free will (Hagan, 2017). Hedonism refers to pleasure. Atkins (2105) states that all of our actions are ultimately motivated by a desire for our own pleasure or an aversion to our own pain. This plays into the classical theory as the assumption is that criminals will rationalize that the pleasure of the activity outweighs the consequences.

The neoclassical theory is a revised version of classical theory that still follows the suggestion of free will on the part of the criminal. The neoclassical theory, according to Hagan (2017), views crime as influenced by the opportunity to commit crimes. In simpler terms, the neoclassical theory suggests that crime is motivated by the likelihood of being caught. This theory argues that more action is needed to deter crime in the form of stricter practices in raising children, stronger punishments, and the possible increase in surveillance and security (Akers, 1990). While neoclassical theory is a revision of the classical theory the biggest difference between the two is consideration of context.

So, how do these theories apply to the crime of assault? Classical theory and neoclassical

theory are the basis for the U.S. Criminal Justice System (Hagan, 2017). This means that policies dictate what punishment to give offenders based on what type of crime they have committed. The legal definition of assault, as published by Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, is generally defined as “intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact”.

Since the classical theory is the belief that people act on their own free will, assault would be a crime where the person has thought about doing harm to another person. While violent attacks may seem irrational, research shows that there is some thought put into the risk and reward of acting out in an assaultive manner (Carmichael and Piquero, 2004). The classical theory would not consider the context of the crime but suggest that the punishment should be equal to the crime. Because the U.S. has adopted the Eighth Amendment which does away with “cruel and unusual punishment”, the classical school of crime would need to ensure that the punishment outweighs the benefits of committing such a crime while remaining ethical.

Assault from the perspective of neoclassical theory looks different than that of the classical school of thought. The neoclassical theory is based more on the opportunity to commit the crime rather than the pleasure of committing the crime. Additionally, the neoclassical theory takes into consideration the context of the crime. With that being said, in most modern criminal justice systems, intent plays an important role in the charges and sentencing. When it comes to a crime like assault, the intent of the perpetrator in committing the act is very important. There are also many other factors that could be taken into consideration such as the age, mental stability and/or maturity, and known habits. This revision of the classical theory is essential in the American criminal justice system as much of our policies reflect the concepts of neoclassical crime theory.

As long as crime has been around, it has been analyzed. It is only human to want to know why someone does something. This is no different when trying to figure out why someone commits a crime. The classical theory of crime is a rational way to theorize motive yet it focuses mainly on the punishment and the act of committing the crime. The neoclassical theory of crime is also a rational way to theorize motive and is superior to the classical theory as it takes into consideration the intent of the criminal. Both of these theories are important to understanding the many types of crimes committed every day. Both have made their contributions to the creation of the American criminal justice system used today.


Akers, R. L. (1990). Rational Choice, Deterrence, and Social Learning Theory in Criminology: The Path Not Taken. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 81(3), 653–676. https://doi.org/10.2307/1143850

Atkins, R. K. (2015). Peirce’s Critique of Psychological Hedonism. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 23(2), 349–367. https://doi.org/10.1080/09608788.2015.1005569

Carmichael, S. and A.R. Piquero. (2004). Sanctions, perceived anger, and criminal offending. Journal of Quantitative Criminology. Special Issue: Offender Decision Making, 20(4), 371-393.

Hagan, F. E. (2017). Introduction to criminology : Theories, methods, and criminal behavior. SAGE.

Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Assault. Retrieved November 30, 2019, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/assault.

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