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Criminal offenses in the United States are grouped depending on their severity. The three main criminal offenses are; infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Punishment for the insults is issued based on the extremity of the crime. Furthermore, crimes against humans are known as personal crimes, while those against property are property crimes.

The duty of legislation and determination of the sentence rests upon peoples’ elected representatives.

What is Infraction?

The common name for infractions is petty or minor offenses. Infractions entail breaking municipal laws, disobeying administrative regulations, violating traffic rules and other ordinances. Since infractions are the minor crimes, they are primarily punishable by imposing fines. Petty offenses are not considered criminal offenses and thus are rarely punished by imprisonment. In some instances, the offender need not go to court.

Examples of petty crimes:

  • Exceeding speed limits and other minor traffic violations
  • Running a business without a permit
  • Noise violations
  • Littering
  • Disturbing peace

The infraction process is easy and straightforward. It starts with an officer issuing a notice of violation to the offender. The notice contains the case number, details of the offense, name of the issuing officer, instruction, and deadline for paying the fine.

What is Misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors criminal offenses whose perpetrators can receive up to 12 months imprisonment. They are more severe than infractions but less severe than felonies. The line that differentiates a misdemeanor from a felony, especially class E felonies, is very narrow and entirely relies on the extreme of the crime.

Examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Driving under influence (DUI)
  • Petty thefts such as shoplifting
  • Possession of ounce of marijuana
  • Trespassing
  • Simple assaults

It is worth noting that a crime such as domestic violence with little or no injuries is considered a misdemeanor. However, if there are severe injuries, it becomes a felony. Similarly, reckless driving fall in the misdemeanor crime category, but when such recklessness results in loss of life or injuries, the offense shifts to a felony. Misdemeanors attract relatively small amounts of fines which range from $1000 to $2000.

What is Felony?

Felonies refer to a category of the most severe forms of criminal offenses. They are commonly known as “high-end crimes.” Due to their severities, felonies are punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding one year. In some instances, the punishment may be life imprisonment.

Examples of felonies are:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Manslaughter
  • Armed Robbery
  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Treason
  • Terrorism
  • Manufacture or distribution of drugs

How are felonies Sentenced?

Different states classify felonies differently, with the most severe ones strongly penalized. Below are the various classes of felonies with their respective penalties.

Class A

Class A felonies are the capital criminal offenses. These crimes include murder and attract the longest sentence, such as the death penalty or life without parole.

Class B

Criminal offenses such as drug trafficking, homicide, rape, assault with violence, or armed robbery fall in this category. It is the second in terms of severity, and a sentence not exceeding 25 years is imposed upon conviction. Some states refer to the crimes in this class as the first-degree felony.

Class C

In some states, offenses in class C are known as second-degree felonies. This class includes crimes such as the distribution of drugs, fraud, child pornography, robbery, assault, and many others. For these crimes, the longest sentence is usually 15 years.

Class D

Also known as third-degree felonies. This class includes crimes such as burglary, theft, fraud, manslaughter, and pornography. The maximum jail term for crimes in this category is 7 years.

Class E

Offenses in this category include but not limited to:

  • Forgery of vehicle identification number
  • Child abandonment
  • Defrauding the government
  • Stalking
  • Insurance fraud

In New York, the maximum penalty for class E offenses is 4 years.


There are two ways of classifying criminal offenses. The first one is by considering what is involved i.e. property or person. Based on what is involved, criminal offenses in the United States fall into two broad categories; personal and property crimes. Personal crimes are offenses against people, while property crimes are offenses against property.

The second way of classifying criminal offenses is by considering the severity of the offenses. The most severe offenses are known as felonies. Capital felonies have the longest sentence, while class E felonies have the shortest jail term. Misdemeanors and infractions are less intense compared to felonies.

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