Felonies, Misdemeanors, Infractions – Different Degrees of Crime
The classification of crimes is not simply a matter of oretical interest, but it plays an important and practical role in the selection of appropriate punishments for a criminal and giving them proper treatment in correctional institutions and the court of law. Therefore, the legal classification of crimes, which is usually based on the nature of the crime committed, is a judicial necessity. The classification of a crime impacts both the procedure and the substance of the criminal charge; and therefore, it becomes all the more important to clearly apprehend the different classifications based on the severity of a crime.
Classification of Crimes
Most people informally think a crime to be an act that is deeply wrong and is worthy of a strong community disapproval. However, as per the criminal law of state, federal or legal systems, a crime is any act that is forbidden by the law as a violation of public interest. American criminal law is originally developed from English common law, which holds an individual responsible for immoral actions and recognizes the importance of punishment for these criminals. Most legal systems categorize crimes into the following types based on the severity of the punishment:
- Felonies: Felonies are considered to be the most serious class of criminal offense throughout the United States of America and are usually punished by imprisonment for more than one year or by death. These crimes include various degrees of rape, homicide, possession, robbery, arson, distribution of illegal narcotics, etc. A felony need not necessarily be violent or perpetrated against a particular victim. For instance, white-collar crime, which covers various types of felonies related to dishonesty in commercial matter, is mostly a non-violent act.
Many jurisdictions in the States classify felony into different classes such that a repeat offender who is convicted of committing a heinous felony receives more severe punishment than an offender who has committed a crime for the first time in a much less cruel or injurious manner. In certain states, a felony is not only defined by the length, but also by the place of incarceration.
- Misdemeanors: A misdemeanor is usually one that is less serious than a felony and is mostly punishable by penalties, fines, or incarceration of less than a year. Some of the misdemeanor activities include disorderly conduct, shoplifting, etc. Although an individual convicted of a misdemeanor, usually serves his or her sentence in a county or a local jail; but at times, another form of incarceration may include inpatient drug treatment programs, boot camps, etc. Modern jurisdictions generally classify misdemeanors into three classes: gross or high, ordinary and petty misdemeanors. In fact, the lines between a misdemeanor and a felony are quite unclear. Therefore, jurisdictions have enacted laws that allow offenses to be prosecuted either as misdemeanors or felonies, while considering factors like the seriousness of the offense, prior offense, the age of the perpetrator and the number of victims in reaching a decision.
- Infraction: Infraction or petty offense is any kind of insignificant crime involving a minor misconduct. This offense generally includes a violation of any rule that protects the public welfare and is usually punishable by community service requirements or monetary fines. Some of the petty offenses in our day to day life are speeding, jaywalking, etc. Although these are technically classified under criminal codes, but the MPC considers them as noncriminal. The sentence of a petty offense is limited to a fine and forfeiture or other civil penalty, such as the suspension or cancellation of a license.
The classification of a crime makes a substantial difference in both procedural and substantive criminal law. Therefore, it greatly helps defense attorneys and their legal assistants in distinguishing what criminal classification the defendant’s actions fall under.