Felonies, Misdemeanors & Violations
Criminal law is the stuff of TV shows, of good guys and bad guys. There are many different kinds of crimes which can be classified in different ways.
- Examples of violations: Littering, jaywalking, creating a public nuisance, some zoning violations.
- Examples of traffic violations: Parking violations, and some minor moving violations, such as speeding or passing on the right.
- Examples of misdemeanors: Simple assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, petty larceny, trespassing, writing a bad check.
- Examples of felonies: Robbery, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, murder, perjury, killing or injuring someone while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Petty offenses do not generally appear on a person’s criminal record, and are generally punishable by a fine, not imprisonment.
Misdemeanors, on the other hand, go on a person’s criminal record and are generally punishable by a fine and/or confinement in jail or reformatory.
Felonies also go on a person’s criminal record. A felon, a person convicted of a felony, loses many civil rights, including the right to vote, and may be punished bya fine and/or more than a year in prison or penitentiary, or by death (capital punishment), in states having the death penalty.
Treason, the most severe crime, goes on a person’s criminal record, and is punishable by death, or by prison for not less than five years.
As for the places to which criminals are confined, here’s a general rule: Jails and reformatories are usually reserved for less severe crimes and often are run by the city or county. Prisons and penitentiaries are usually used for more severe crimes and are run by states or by the federal government.
Larceny: In How Many Ways Can Someone Steal?
Larceny is a crime made up of several elements: the taking of property (something) which belongs to someone else, without his consent and with the intent of permanently depriving him of it. Also known as theft, stealing, and purloining. The taking–from one place to another’is called “asportation.”
- Grand Larceny: If the property is valuable (usually over two hundred dollars).
- Petit Larceny: If the property is of low value’as found in the state statute.
There are many types of larceny, as Larcenous Larry and Vicky Victim will now demonstrate:
- Robbery: If Larry takes something from Vicky directly (off her body) or within her sight, with force, and against her will. Purse snatching is a form of robbery. Pickpocketing is not a form of robbery because, although Larry takes something out of Vicky’s pocket, she is unaware of it and not frightened.
- Armed Robbery: If Larry has a lethal weapon when he robs Vicky and if Vicky believes he has one.
- Extortion: If Larry uses threats or other coercion to get Vicky’s money’but does not threaten her personal safety, as in robbery. If, for example, he tells her he will reveal facts about her past (even if true) and she pays him to be quiet, this is extortion. It’s also known as blackmail.
- Burglary: If Larry takes Vicky’s property from her house.
- Breaking and Entering is the crime Larry commits if he enters Vicky’s house with the intent to commit a crime there.
- Embezzlement: If Larry has property entrusted to him but then takes it for himself through fraud. Here, even if he intends to give it back, it’s still embezzlement. For example, this crime may happen among employees who have money entrusted to them but falsify records, deposits, et cetera, to take the money.
- Pilferage: If Larry takes small amounts (often, again and again) so his larceny won’t be discovered. This crime is a problem many stores have among their employees who pilfer goods.
- Shoplifting: If Larry takes displayed goods from a store while ‘shopping’ there.
- False pretenses: Getting money or property by lying with the intent to defraud. Also called ‘misrepresentation.’ For example: submitting phony bills; the “white collar” crime of fraud; submitting “padded” bills for reimbursement. A salesman’s misrepresentation of the facts about a product, which induces a customer to buy it; e.g., if Larry, salesman, lies to Vicky about what’s in the product and she buys it’based on his statements.
- Misrepresentation is making a statement that is designed to deceive or milead someone. Bad checks are a form of false pretenses called “uttering.” Larry writes a bad check if he knows there is no money in his account to cover it.
- Receipt of stolen property: If Larry’s friend gets the goods and knows they are stolen. The crime can also occur if a stranger buys the goods from Larry, while knowing they are stolen.
Mistake of fact is not larceny: If Larry takes Vicky’s property but thinks it is his own, there is no larceny because he had no intent to deprive Vicky of her property. This may happen at a restaurant, if Larry takes the wrong umbrella.
Note: The key to larceny crimes is the intent to deprive the owner of his property. However, this is not true for embezzlement, as shown above. Note also that the key to receipt of stolen property is knowledge that the property is ‘hot.’
Homicide is the killing of one person by someone else. Here are some examples.
- –A shoots B and kills him.
- –C kills D while driving under the influence of alcohol (DWI).
- –E kills F in self-defense.
- –G fights with H. H falls, hits his head, and dies.
These are all homicides. But, are they all criminal homicides? If so, are they examples of murder or manslaughter?
Punishment for the different homicides varies greatly. Note that of all homicides, first-degree murder is the most serious and punished most severely.
There are three broad categories of homicides:
- –by a soldier in wartime.
- –by court order (such as execution).
- –when necessary to prevent a felony, stop a riot, catch a felon.
- –as a result of an accident or a mistake.
- –as a result of ordinary negligence. (As in a car accident. But see below for gross negligence.)
- –by someone who has no legal capacity to commit the crime (such as a child).
- –is neither justifiable nor excusable.
State laws divide criminal homicide into different categories. While these differ from state to state, a generalized pattern is summarized below.
Crime – Indictment – Trial/Guilty Plea/Plea Bargain – Conviction – Punishment
Punishment is the penalty for a crime. The court’s punishment order is called the sentence. ”I sentence you to ”
Note that the terminology for the person punished changes during the criminal sequence. Before the indictment he is the “accused.” After the indictment, before the conviction, he is the “defendant” (D). Following conviction (or guilty plea), he is the “convict.”
Criminal law sometimes is called penal law (punishment law).
Jails and prisons are sometimes called “penal institutions.” An example from history: Australia was used by the British government as a penal colony for prisoners. Apparently it was preferable to send prisoners ‘down under’ than to incarcerate them back home!
- Capital Punishment: The death penalty. (Your head is your “capital.”)
- Corporal Punishment: Physical punishment, such as lashing. (Your “corpus” is your body.)
- Imprisonment/Incarceration: Confinement in a jail or prison (or anywhere against your will, actually).
- Determinate Sentence/Indeterminate Sentence: A determinate sentence is for a fixed time period, as determined by statute. The statue lists the number of months or years of incarceration for specific crimes. Indeterminate sentences have fixed minimum and maximum time periods within that range. The actual length of time a person may serve is set by the statutes, officials, and the prisoner’s behavior. You’ve heard of “time off for good behavior.” This may occur with an indeterminate sentence.
- Parole: Release from jail or prison after serving part of a sentence. The release is conditional on the convict’s behavior outside prison. If he violates the terms of his release, it may be revoked. In that case he “violates parole” and may be reincarcerated.
- Fine: A sum of money a convict pays to the court. (This money is different from damages, which a defendant pays a plaintiff.)
- Restitution: An order that the convict resotre the victim’s property. Example: by paying for repair of damage or by the return of specific items.
- Suspended sentence: A prison term that a convict does not actually serve in prison. Instead, he is placed on probation. If he violates the terms of probation, then he is sent to serve the term.
- Probation: Letting the convict serve his term outside prison, during good behavior and, usually, under the supervision of a probation officer. If the convict violates the terms of his probation, he may be incarcerated. Note that generally parole occurs after a convict has been incarcerated for some time, while probation occurs instead of incarceration. The word probation comes from the Latin: proving something. It appears also in “probating” a will (proving its authenticity); or a “probationary” period at work to see if the new employee will work out well. In the case of criminal law it gives a convict a chance to prove his good behavior. The word parole has a Latin root that means to speak. Here the convict promises (says) he will behave himself. Interesting difference.
Following a court’s sentencing order the executive branch (the governor of a state or the President of the U.S.) sometimes (rarely) steps in to change that order, through the power of executive clemency. There are three types:
- Pardon: The best! Declares the person innocent. Wipes the slate clean. Clears the person’s criminal record.
- Commutation of sentence: Reduces the punishment. Example: by shortening theprison term or changing a sentence of capital punishment to imprisonment.
- Reprieve: A temporary suspension in the punishment. Example: to give the convict time to settle his business, deal with family matters, and so on, before he starts a prison term. It’s also a stay of execution of a pending death penalty, often to give a prisoner more time for further appeals to court.
Finally, remember, the Constitution limits punishments in key ways:
- The Eight Amendment guarantees that there shall be no “cruel and unusual punishment.” The definition of “cruel and unusual” changes over time and is left for the courts to define. Now it generally means punishment that is so disproportionate to the crime that it offends our notions of fundamental fairness. That’s pretty clear, isn’t it! But it means you probably won’t go to jail for jaywalking, and torture is considered “cruel.”
- The Fifth Amendment protects defendant’s against double jeopardy. This means that if a defendant is found innocent by a court, he may not be tried again for the same offense. However, if the first trial ended in a hung jury (no verdict), he may be tried again. He was not acquitted. If the first case was in state court, he may be tried for the same offense in federal court. Remember, too, that even if a defendant is acquitted in a criminal case, he may still be sued civilly by a victim(s) or other plaintiff(s). That would not be a case of double jeopardy. The language of the Amendment is picturesque: nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.
from: Legal Grind Press first release:
The Little Law Book is an adaptation of LEGALESE by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman (Dell 1990). The book is written for legal description and thus should not be relied upon in the execution of legal decisions. Since laws vary from State to State, we urge you to contact a legal professional in your own State.