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There are three basic types of criminal offenses in the U.S.¹ The main distinguishing factor between them is the level of seriousness and the amount of punishment for which someone convicted of the crime can receive. Criminal offenses can be further classified as propety or personal crimes.¹

What is a felony?

Essentially, a felony is the most serious type of crime. Felons, or individuals convicted of a felony, are punished by incarceration of more than a year in prison and in some cases life in prison without parole.¹ In the U.S., felons can also receive an execution sentence. The person who committed the crime can be charged with a felony, along with anyone who aided or abetted the felon before or during the crime and anyone who became accessories of the crime after it was committed, like someone who helped the felon avoid capture.¹

What is a misdemeanor?

These are crimes that do not rise to the severity of a felony.¹ They are lesser crimes for which the maximum sentence is 12 months or less in jail. The difference between a misdemeanor and felony lies within the seriouness of the crime.¹ For example, a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest is usually a misdemeanor, but if someone is hurt or killed and it is not the driver's first DUI, the charge can become a felony.

What is an infraction?

An infraction, also popularly known as a petty crime, does not usually require jail time.¹ They are punishable by fines that can be paid without going to court. Most infractions deal with traffic laws, like speeding and no parking zones.¹

What is a capital crime?

A capital crime is the most serious form of crime and is punishable by death. Capital crimes are controversial in the U.S., specifically in regard to race and juvenile offenders.¹

Types of crimes

  1. Crimes against persons: also called personal crimes, these include murder, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery;
  2. Crimes against property: involve theft of property without bodily harm, like burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson;
  3. Crimes against morality: are vicitimless crimes, like prostitution, illegal gambling, and illegal drug use, as there is no complainant or victim;
  4. White-collar crime: are crimes that are committed by people of high social status and commit them in the context of their job.



Image source:

1. Wikimedia


1. About. Types of Criminal Offenses. Retrieved May 13, 2014, from

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