Classifications of Crimes

Crimes are classified into levels or degrees, because the behavior regulated by criminal laws varies from relatively minor to violent. Therefore, the seriousness of a crime is reflected in its classification. The actual classification of a particular offense will vary depending on the jurisdiction. If you are questioned about a crime, or are accused of, or arrested for a crime, you should consult an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible. Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer, William Butler, can explain the particular crime, its classification and its possible ramifications. For over 28 years, he has successfully defended thousands of clients, and he can help you too. For immediate assistance, call William M Butler, Jr., at 502-582-2020, or contact him via email to schedule your initial confidential consultation. For more information, please see his Case Results and Testimonials.

Felonies

Under federal criminal law and the laws of about half of the states, a felony is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of a year or more. Other states may define a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or a prison sentence served in a state penitentiary. Generally speaking, the most serious crimes such as those that are particularly heinous, involve dangerous weapons, or threaten relatively high amounts of financial damage or harm to property, are classified as felonies.

  • Examples of felonies include murder, treason, rape, arson, burglary and kidnapping.
  • For federal felonies, defendants have the right to be charged only by a grand jury. This right varies for state felonies.
  • Because of the seriousness of the offense and the punishment, maximum safeguards for the defendant’s rights are built into the prosecution and court procedures in a felony trial.
  • Indigent defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers and are facing felony charges have the right to free state-appointed criminal defense attorneys.
  • In addition to social stigma, long-term consequences may include the loss of the right to vote; ineligibility for elected office or professional licenses; restrictions on the right to possess weapons; ineligibility for housing, public benefits, educational benefits or certain jobs; immigration problems up to and including removal; loss of the right to serve as a juror; negative impact on parental rights or divorce proceedings; or the requirement to register with certain criminal registries.
  • Persons accused of felonies have the right to jury trials.
  • A limited number of crimes, such as murder, can be punished by the death penalty in some jurisdictions. These crimes are often referred to as capital offenses.

Misdemeanors

Under federal criminal law and the criminal laws in about half of the states, a misdemeanor is a crime for which the maximum possible punishment is incarceration for less than a year. In other states, a misdemeanor may be defined as a crime punishable only by a fine or by incarceration in a jail. Some states have different classes of misdemeanors; for example, “petty offenses” that are punishable by six months or less in jail, and “simple” or “minor” misdemeanors that have a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail.

Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that are less violent or involve lower levels of harm than felonies do. The legal procedures for misdemeanors are usually simpler than for felonies, the penalties less severe and the long-term consequences less harsh.

  • Penalties typically include fines, loss of property or incarceration in a jail for less than one year.
  • There is no federal right to a grand jury for a misdemeanor, and state grand-jury rights for misdemeanors vary.
  • Court procedures may be more relaxed than those for felonies.
  • Indigent defendants are generally only eligible for free state-appointed legal counsel when the misdemeanor charges can result in imprisonment upon conviction.
  • Long-term consequences are normally less severe than those of felonies, although some of the felony consequences listed above may still apply to misdemeanors, depending on the jurisdiction. However, those convicted of misdemeanors generally retain the right to vote.
  • Generally, if the potential punishment is imprisonment for less than six months, there is no right to a jury trial.

Minor criminal offenses

The least severe infractions are minor offenses, including traffic offenses. The terminology varies by state, but common terms for these offenses include petty offenses, infractions or violations of local law. Often the only penalty is a fine and sometimes the infraction may not even be considered a crime. Violations of local ordinances may be punishable by a fine or a short period of incarceration (maximum length of 90 days).

Secure Legal Counsel

It is important to keep in mind that crime classifications vary by jurisdiction and that this article provides general information. For immediate assistance, call Criminal Defense Attorney William M Butler, Jr., at 502-582-2020, or contact him via email to schedule your initial confidential consultation. He can help you understand the details, potential punishment and ramifications of a criminal charge in your jurisdiction.

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