Criminal Offenses

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In the United States, criminal offenses are classified according to their seriousness. The most common criminal offenses result in either a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge against the person convicted. A crime is classified as a misdemeanor when a petty offense or less serious crime has taken place. A crime is classified as a felony when the crime is more serious. Infractions or a violation of an ordinance, rule, or regulation are generally not considered to be a criminal offense.

Crimes that are classified as misdemeanors include vandalism, trespassing, various forms of disorderly conduct, DUI, and several other minor offenses. Punishments for misdemeanor charges vary, but they generally do not result in more than one year of imprisonment in a local or county jail. Repeat offenders may be subject to more than one year in jail. Fines are alos common for misdemeanor charges. Probation and community service are often required for those convicted of a misdemeanor charge. Most privileges including jury duty and voting rights are not taken away from those that are charged with a misdemeanor.

Most states further classify misdemeanors into subcategories such as Class A, Class B, and Class C misdemeanors. Even further divisions into Class 1 misdemeanor, Class 2 misdemeanor, and so on are often used in some states. In these situations, a particular class of misdemeanors will result in jail time as well as a fine while other classes will result in a fine subject to a maximum amount.

Felony charges are common for more serious crimes including rape, murder, kidnapping, battery, aggravated assault, treason, robbery, grand theft, fraud, burglary, racketeering, espionage, and several others. Punishment for felony charges is generally incarceration, over one year and up to life, in a federal or state prison. Fines may be assessed in felony cases. Probation can become an option for some convicted felons. Voting rights and jury duty along with other privileges may be taken away from convicted felons.

The more serious felony charges including murder can result in the death penalty. However, some states have banned the death penalty. In this situation, life in prison is the most common form of punishment. All sentencing—the type of punishment and length—is dependent on the intent and seriousness of the crime, any mitigating factors, the remorse felt by the criminal, and the jurisdiction in which the crime is being prosecuted.

Some states have implemented a three-strike rule regarding felony charges. In these states, people who have been convicted of three or more felonies will receive much harsher prison sentencing. Generally, misdemeanor charges are not included in the three-strike rule.

Most infractions are not classified as criminal offenses. The majority of infractions are considered to be civil offenses. In legal sense, an infraction, is a summary offense, or a "petty" violation of the law less serious than a misdemeanor. Therefore, an infraction is generally not considered to be a crime.

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