The necessity of crime classification as a function of jurisprudence has been long-recognized by all societies. There are many crimes which, on the surface, appear similar; however, mitigating circumstances as determined by law is important in the pursuit of justice. Crimes such as robbery, for example, should be viewed differently if there was an aggravated aspect that imperiled the lives of the victim. The reasoning is surmised to act as both punitive and as a deterrent for future criminals.
Crime Classification: Infractions
As suggested by the name, an infraction is the least serious kind of crime in the United States. In fact, there are many municipalities that don’t consider an infraction a crime at all – but rather, a civil offense that isn’t punishable by incarceration. Usually, fines are levied as determined by administrative officials, and people guilty of infractions rarely see the inside of a courtroom.
A few examples of infractions are jaywalking and parking tickets. These civil offenses can become more serious if the levied fine isn’t paid, but even before that occurs a court date is set. The offender has the opportunity to appeal or protest the fine; if she loses, then the fine sticks and nonpayment of this and subsequent fines could result in an actual crime being committed (as opposed to merely a civil offense). This leads us to the next rung on the crime classification ladder.
Crime Classification: Misdemeanor Offenses
Misdemeanors are not civil offenses; they are outright crimes against society. Usually reserved for less serious offenses, conviction on the alleged counts results in a jail sentence, a substantial fine or both. Misdemeanors are much less flexible than infractions, and a categorization exists even within this class.
The lowest class of misdemeanor is called petty, then there’s ordinary and finally gross. A petty misdemeanor is close to an infraction, except a short period of incarceration in the county jail is a very real possibility. The fine amount is also higher, but not egregious. Clearly, the higher the class, the more severe the punishment. A gross misdemeanor is a serious violation of law; some examples include DUI with the presence of a child in the car, simple assault on another person, and repeat violations of a petty or ordinary misdemeanor. Across the nation, a generally accepted average punishment can be a full year in jail and up to $5000 in punitive fines.
Infractions and misdemeanors do share another thing in common; they can be expunged from the record of the offender if so deemed by a judge. The record can also be sealed, and future goals – obtaining certain jobs, etc – won’t be affected by the record. There are various reasons this may happen – from good behavior to the offender being a minor when the offenses were committed.
Top of the Classification Rung: Felonies
Felonies are the highest class of criminal activity, and include crimes like murder, terrorism, rape kidnapping and more. Given the seriousness of these kinds of crimes, the whole dynamic of incarceration changes – instead of the county jail, a state penal institution called a prison is usually the destination upon conviction. There are many different sub-categories of felonies; these vary by state. In order of severity, Class E felonies are the mildest. Next are Class D, Class C, Class B and Class A felonies, which are so severe as to warrant life imprisonment or the death penalty – whichever is the maximum penalty in that particular state.