Crime and Punishment - English for Police

This page from our English for Police section covers language police need when talking about crimes and punishments in an English-speaking context.

A crime is a serious offence such as murder or robbery. A punishment is a penalty imposed on somebody who is convicted of a crime. A punishment could be, for example, time in prison or a fine.

There is an important difference between criminal law and civil law. Criminal law deals with matters such as robbery or murder for which people can go to jail. Civil law deals with matters such as business contracts or divorce. The police are not normally involved in civil law.

Example Sentences

Questions from law-breakers or suspected criminals

  • Why did you pull me over?
  • Have I done something wrong?
  • Is this illegal?
  • What are my rights?
  • Can I call a lawyer?
  • Where are you taking me?
  • Can I make a phone call?

Questions police may ask a suspected criminal

  • Are you carrying any illegal drugs?
  • Do you have a weapon?
  • Does this belong to you?
  • Whose car is this?
  • Where were you at eight last night?

Informing someone of laws and police procedures

  • You are under arrest.
  • Put your hands on your head.
  • I am taking you to the police station.
  • Please get in the police car.
  • You will have to pay a fine for this.
  • I will give you a warning this time.
  • I'm going to write you a ticket.
  • We'll tow your car to the station.
  • Smoking in restaurants is illegal in this country.
  • It is against the law to do drugs in public.

Types of crime

crime definition
abduction/ kidnapping taking a person to a secret location using force
armed robbery using a weapon to steal
arson setting fire to a place on purpose
assault hurting another person physically
attempted murder trying to kill someone (but failing)
breaking and entering
going into another person's home or business with force
child abuse injuring a child on purpose
domestic violence physical assault that occur within the home
drug trafficking trading illegal drugs
drunk driving driving after having too much alcohol
fraud lying or cheating for business or monetary purposes
hijacking holding people in transit hostage (usually on a plane)
murder/ homicide taking someone's life through violence
shoplifting stealing merchandise from a store
smuggling bringing products into a country secretly and illegally
speeding driving beyond the speed limit
terrorism acts of crime against a group (political/religious) or another country
theft stealing
torture extremely cruel and unfair treatment (often towards prisoners)
vandalism damaging public or private property (for example with spray paint)
white collar crime breaking the law in business

Types of punishment

(example offence)
traffic ticket
(speeding, parking)
leaves marks on driving record/involves paying a fine
license suspension
(drunk driving)
driving rights are removed for a certain period of time
(hunting out of season)
pay money as punishment for minor/petty crime
house arrest
(a young offender who is waiting to go to court)
remain in one's home for a certain period of time
community service
(a youth that steals a car for the first time)
do volunteer work such as teaching children about crime or cleaning up garbage
jail time
(man who assaults his wife)
spend a certain amount of months or years locked away from society
life in prison
(a woman who commits homicide)
spend the rest of one's life in prison with no chance of going back into society