Crime Classification

Crime Classification

crime classification felony misdemeanor

Understand the differences between misdemeanors and felonies.

Because the negative behavior regulated by the criminal laws varies from relatively minor to devastatingly violent, crimes are classified into levels or degrees. The classification of a crime reflects its seriousness. The actual crime classification of a particular offense varies depending on the jurisdiction. If you are questioned about a crime or are accused of or arrested for a crime, you should consult an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible. A criminal defense lawyer from Taylor Law & Mediation in Mountain Home, Idaho, can explain the particular crime involved and its possible ramifications.


Under federal criminal law and the laws of Idaho, a felony is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of a year or more. Other states define a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or a prison sentence served in a state penitentiary. Generally speaking, the most serious crimes, such as those that are either particularly heinous, involve dangerous weapons or threaten relatively high amounts of financial damage or harm to property, are classified as felonies.

Examples of felonies include murder, treason, rape, arson, burglary, trafficking in controlled substances, aggravated battery, kidnapping, attempted strangulation, and grand theft.

Because of the seriousness of the offense and the punishment, maximum safeguards for the defendant’s rights are built into the prosecution and court procedures.

Indigent defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers and are facing felony charges have the right to state-appointed criminal defense attorneys.  In addition to social stigma, the long-term consequences could include the loss of the right to vote; ineligibility for elected office or professional licenses; restrictions on the right to possess weapons; ineligibility for housing, public benefits, educational benefits or certain jobs; immigration problems up to and including removal; loss of the right to serve as a juror; negative impact on parental rights or divorce proceedings; or the requirement to register with certain criminal registries.

Persons accused of felonies always have the right to jury trials.  A limited number of crimes, such as murder, can be punished by the death penalty. These crimes are often referred to as capital offenses.


A misdemeanor is a crime for which the maximum possible punishment is incarceration for less than a year. Some states have different classes of misdemeanors; for example, “petty offenses” that are punishable by six months or less in jail and “simple” or “minor” misdemeanors that have a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail.

Generally, misdemeanors are crimes that are less violent or involve lower levels of harm than felonies. The legal procedures for misdemeanors are usually simpler than for felonies, the penalties less severe and the long-term consequences less harsh.

Penalties typically include fines, property forfeitures or incarceration in a jail for less than one year.  There is no right to a grand jury for a misdemeanor.  Indigent defendants are generally only eligible for state-appointed legal counsel when the misdemeanor charges can result in imprisonment upon conviction.

Long-term consequences are normally less severe than those of felonies, although some of the felony consequences listed above may still apply to misdemeanors, depending on the jurisdiction. However, those convicted of misdemeanors generally retain the right to vote.

Minor Offenses

The least severe infractions are minor traffic offenses and the like. The terminology varies by state, but common terms for these offenses include petty offenses, infractions or violations of local law. Often the only penalty is a fine and sometimes the infraction may not even be considered a crime. Violations of local ordinances may be punishable by a fine or a short period of incarceration (maximum length of 90 days).


It is important to keep in mind that crime classifications vary by jurisdiction and that this article provides general information. To understand the details of a criminal charge in your jurisdiction, speak with an attorney at Taylor Law & Mediation in Mountain Home, Idaho, who can explain the potential punishment and ramifications.