In the United States, crimes are classified according to their seriousness. For crimes against property, the seriousness of a crime is generally proportional to the value of the property taken or damaged: the greater the value of a property, the more serious the deletion.
For crimes against persons, the same principle applies to bodily injuries inflicted on individuals: The greater the injury, the more serious the crime. However, other factors can influence the seriousness of a crime.
These factors include whether the defendant had a prior criminal record; if the defendant committed the crime with cruelty, ill will, intent, or reckless disregard for the safety of another person; and if the victim was a member of a protected class (eg, minors, minorities, retirees, disabled, etc.). Thus, a less serious crime can be made more serious by the presence of these additional factors, and a more serious crime can be made less serious by its absence.
Today, every jurisdiction in the United States contemplates the distinction between serious and minor offenses. However, most jurisdictions have added a third-type of crime, typically called an infraction. Although definitions of crimes have different meanings in different jurisdictions, they share some common characteristics.
Serious Offenses, Minor Crimes and Infractions
The power to define a crime and classify it as a felony, a misdemeanor, or an infraction is only in the law at the federal level. Federal courts do not have the power to punish any act that is not prohibited by federal statute.
In the 18th century in the United States, the courts had the power to define crimes and establish classifications for crimes. These offenses were known as common law crimes. At the beginning of the 19th century, federal common law crimes were increasingly attacked as a violation of the separation of powers mandate established by the United States Constitution. The first article of the constitution gives the congress the power to make law, while the third article gives the judiciary the power to interpret and apply it. In this way, federal courts are prevented from defining crimes or creating classifications for crimes.
Most states have abolished common law crimes. In these states the legislature has been given the responsibility to define illegal behavior (the Executive Power in some states and via decrees, administrative rules and regulations, plays a limited role of legislation). In the minority of states that still recognize crimes of common law, judges are not allowed to create new crimes in the law.
If you have been accused of a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. All 50 states and the District of Columbia rely on their criminal code to find the nature and extent of the criminal rights of their jurisdiction, and when a criminal code designates an offense as a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction, it is considered by the courts.
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