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Public Order Crimes

Prostitution, Abnormal Sexual Behavior, Pornography, Alcohol And Crime, Driving Under The Influence (dui)

Public order crimes are actions that do not conform to society's general ideas of normal social behavior and moral values. Moral values are the commonly accepted standards of what is considered right and wrong. Public order crimes are widely viewed as harmful to the public good or harmful and disruptive to a community's daily life. In this chapter the public order crimes described include prostitution, paraphilia, and pornography, as well as alcohol and drug offenses.

Prostitution is selling or performing sexual acts in return for payment, generally money. Paraphilia is sexual behavior considered bizarre or abnormal, such as voyeurism (spying on another for sexual pleasure) or pedophilia (sexual desire involving children). Pornography includes videos, books, photographs, and other materials focusing on nudity and sexual activities.

While crimes against people and property (see chapters 4 and 5) involve actions considered wrong by any standard, public order crimes are defined by the social and moral rules of the day. For example, prostitution was licensed, legal, and socially acceptable in ancient Greece. Around 500 B.C.E. Pornographic literature that was confiscated throughout the year was torched by the New York police department, 1936. (© Bettmann/Corbis) prominent men in Greek communities openly went to houses of prostitution. Part of the money paid was applied to the building of Greek temples. Prostitution was considered morally wrong by most Americans in the year 2000. In the United States, prostitution is legal only in Nevada and then only at licensed houses, called brothels, located away from population centers.

Laws against public order crimes, also called "sin" crimes, are highly controversial. What is shameful and immoral is difficult to determine, and public order crimes are often committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens. The activities are carried out between willing participants. Public order crimes are therefore referred to as victimless crimes, except when children are involved.

Some argue that victimless crimes such as prostitution, pornography, and illegal drug sales should be legalized then controlled and taxed like the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Those with a different point of view stress that there is no such thing as victimless crime. They argue that prostitution and pornography are degrading and often dangerous. Drugs destroy individuals and their families, often leading to thievery for drug money, and even death from drug overdoses.

DUI laws

DUI laws make it a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Illegal Per Se laws make it a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle if the driver has a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) above a specific level. The level for adults over twenty-one years of age is 0.08 in most states and 0.10 in others. Administrative Per Se laws allow driver licensing agencies to suspend or revoke (take away) a driver's license when the driver has a blood or breath alcohol concentration at or above the state's BAC.

Police may seize a driver's license during an alcohol-related arrest. Depending on the laws of each state, limited driving privileges may be restored after a period of time passes. For example, after a specified time period some states may allow work-related driving to and from a place of employment. Other states allow no driving privileges for the entire suspension. The decision to restore privileges is left to a judge.

All states impose monetary fines of varying amounts. License suspensions, fines, and even short jail time depends on the judge's decision in first-time offenses. For second and subsequent DUI arrests states have more severe penalties.

The major federal legislation that impacts drunk driving offenses is the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century (TEA-21) passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1998. TEA-21 has been successful in reducing death and injury on highways by aggressively addressing and funding drunk driving prevention measures. Because of TEA-21 and strong lobbying (applying pressure) by MADD and RID, a significant number of states lowered BAC levels to .08, passed open container laws (making it illegal to have open liquor containers in one's vehicle), and strengthened repeat offender laws. TEA-21 expired on September 30, 2003, and was waiting for reauthorization in 2004.

Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) under the Department of Justice began a program in 1989 to study trends of drug use across the United States by monitoring the drug use among jail detainees. Drug use among arrestees parallels drug use trends in the general population. The program grew rapidly and in 1997 its name was changed from Drug Use Forecasting to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program.

In 2004 ADAM operated in thirty-eight cities across the United States. ADAM collects urine samples from adults, male and female, awaiting arraignment (where a defendant is charged and enters a plea of innocent or guilty) at central jail booking (processing) facilities. ADAM tests for a wide range of drugs. It most frequently detects marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

In 2000 ADAM reported that 64 percent of the males tested at thirty-five of the thirty-eight sites tested positive for at least one drug. Of females tested at twenty-nine of thirty-eight sites, 63 percent tested positive for at least one drug. Testing reveals marijuana use within the last thirty days, cocaine and heroin use within the last three days, and methamphetamine within the last four days.

U.S. customs inspectors examine drugs that were seized in Texas in 2001. The U.S. government continuously attempts to apprehend drug dealers bringing large amounts of illegal drugs into the country. (AP/Wide World Photos)

ADAM also collects the same information on juvenile defendants, aged twelve to eighteen. At most sites over half of juvenile arrestees tested positive for at least one drug. Of those who tested positive, the largest age group was seventeen. In 2000 marijuana was by far the leading drug among juvenile users, cocaine was a distant second, and the number testing positive for methamphetamine was low.

Drug trafficking in the United States

A strategy traditionally used to deal with drug abuse in the United States is to stop the illegal transportation of drugs into the country. The U.S. government continuously attempts to apprehend drug dealers bringing large amounts of illegal drugs into the country. Despite these efforts, the illegal drug market in the United States is the most profitable in the world. Organized crime groups, both U.S. and foreign, continue to make huge amounts of money from drug trafficking.

Cocaine and crack cocaine. Diverse criminal groups operating out of South America smuggle cocaine into the United States predominately across the U.S.-Mexico border. Wealthy and powerful Colombian drug cartels (organized crime groups growing and selling narcotics) control the worldwide supply of cocaine and see that it is distributed in the United States and elsewhere.

Drug organizations based in the Dominican Republic are also responsible for cocaine in the United States. Use of crack, an inexpensive, smokable, and very dangerous and addictive form of cocaine, has declined in the early 2000s but continues to be available in most U.S. cities. Street gangs such as the Bloods and Crips, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Jamaicans rule the street distribution of crack cocaine.

Heroin. Heroin is grown and moved into the United States from four major areas: Columbia in South America, Mynemar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia, Afghanistan in the Middle East, and Mexico. At the start of the twenty-first century heroin arrived in the United States from each of these regions. South American heroin dominates the eastern United States, while "Black Tar" heroin and a brown powdered version from Mexico are the dominate forms in the western United States. Powdered heroin has attracted new, younger users because it can be snorted rather than injected.

Marijuana. Marijuana is the most easily obtained and most widely used illegal drug in the United States. Almost one-third of Americans have tried the drug and there were approximately twelve million current smokers at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most marijuana is grown in Mexico, Canada, or in the United States. The five leading indoor-growing states are California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, and Wisconsin. Leading outdoor growing states are California, Hawaii, Kentucky, and Tennessee. These sites were determined by the number of plants discovered and destroyed by law enforcement agencies.

Methamphetamine. Methamphetamine distribution and use is concentrated in the western United States. The demand, however, has been increasing in the South, especially in Georgia and Florida. The principle source of methamphetamines is "meth" laboratories located in California and Mexico. In Mexico a majority of the meth laboratories found and dismantled have been in the cities of Tijuana and Mexicali. Points of entry into the United States are along the borders of Southern California and Texas. Increasing numbers of nonprofessional, informal laboratories have been emerging throughout The principle source of methamphetamines is "meth" laboratories located in California and Mexico. (AP/Wide World Photos)
the United States as instructions for making highly pure methamphetamine drugs can be found on the Internet.

MDMA/Ecstasy. The drug MDMA, 3, 4—methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is commonly known as Ecstasy. Ecstasy has both stimulant (making one feel high) and hallucinogen (creating hallucinations or imaginary visions) properties. Among other symptoms are increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, blurred vision, faintness, chills or sweating, and sleeplessness. It is usually taken by teens and young adults attending all night parties called raves.

Ecstasy use skyrocketed among European young people in the late 1990s and in the United States between 1999 and 2001. Use began declining in 2002 and continued in 2003. The majority of MDMA that reaches the United States is produced in Europe, especially in MDMA laboratories in the Netherlands. It costs as little as 25 to 50 cents to produce a MDMA tablet in Europe, which is sold for between $20 and $30, sometimes up to $40, in the United States. MDMA is transported to the United States by drug dealers, predominately from Russian and Israeli gangs, through Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. A small amount of MDMA is produced within the United States.

For More Information


Abadinsky, Howard. Drug Abuse: An Introduction. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1997.

Go Ask Alice. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998.

Raphael, Jody Ann. Listen to Olivia: Violence, Poverty, and Prostitution. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 2004.

Siegel, Larry J. Criminology: The Core. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002.

Web Sites

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). http://www.madd.org (accessed on August 20, 2004).

"Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID)." RID-USA, Inc. http://www.crisny.org/not-for-profit/ridusa (accessed on August 20, 2004.

Students Against Destructive Decisions, Inc. (SADD). http://www.sadd.org/ (accessed on August 20, 2004).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://www.nida.nih.gov (accessed on August 20, 2004).

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. http://www.dea.gov (accessed on August 20, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law