Classifying Criminal Acts: Types of Crimes
Criminal laws exist to maintain peace, safety and public welfare. Acts that violate criminal statutes are classified into different categories based on severity. Felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions represent the three main types of crimes. Understanding the classifications helps make sense of the criminal justice system.
Felonies – Most Serious Offenses
Felonies represent the most serious category of crimes. Felonies are major offenses punishable by over one year in prison, substantial fines or even capital punishment. Common law felonies include murder, manslaughter, arson, burglary, rape and kidnapping. Other felony crimes are established by federal and state statute.
Felonies like murder typically require a showing of intentional conduct, but crimes like involuntary manslaughter may rely on serious recklessness or negligence. Drug crimes, financial fraud and theft over a certain dollar amount are also felonious. Weapons charges, robbery, and aggravated assault likewise qualify as felonies in most jurisdictions.
Misdemeanors – Lesser Offenses
Misdemeanors are criminal offenses deemed less severe than felonies. Misdemeanors are usually punishable by fines, short jail sentences (less than one year), probation and lower financial penalties. Some examples include petty theft, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault and battery, traffic violations, disorderly conduct, vandalism and trespassing.
The classification as a misdemeanor is a function of the jurisdiction’s lawmaking body. The difference between a felony and misdemeanor for the same crime – for example theft – often depends on the value of the property stolen.
Infractions – Minor Violations
Infractions, sometimes called violations, are the least serious offenses. They typically violate publicly regulated acts, codes or administrative rules. Common infractions include minor traffic violations like speeding or running a red light, parking violations, noise complaints, loitering, jaywalking, and open container laws. Infractions rarely carry jail time but instead result in fines, community service, or educational programs.
Understanding Crime Classifications
The classifications help distinguish between severe criminal acts that warrant harsher punishment and minor offenses eligible for more lenient consequences. Check your jurisdiction’s statutes to learn precisely which crimes fall under the categories of felony, misdemeanor or infraction. The degree of punishment permitted often depends on keeping these distinctions clear, protecting individual rights and maintaining justice.