A Guide To Criminal Offense Classification

Posted on: 24 August 2020

Knowing the classification of a crime can help you determine the severity of the possible sentence. Criminal offenses fall under one of three classifications.


An infraction, or petty offense, is considered the least severe classification for a criminal charge. Infractions are nonviolent crimes, such as certain traffic offenses, littering, or doing something without the proper license or permit. Often, an infraction isn't even considered a criminal offense, but is instead treated as a civil offense. If a criminal infraction is brought against you, the punishment is rarely jail time. Instead you may be issued a fine, community service, a class requirement, or a combination of the three.

In some states crimes like minor possession of a controlled substance are listed as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor or felony. These criminal infractions may come with more severe penalties. These may include required treatment, a short sentence in a local jail (as opposed to a prison term), or house arrest.


Depending on the offense and the jurisdiction, a misdemeanor may be treated as little more than an infraction with a more severe fine or a short local jail sentence. Repeated infractions can sometimes lead to a misdemeanor, as can nonviolent crimes such as theft or possession of certain drugs.

Further, misdemeanors may be separated into three categories — petty, ordinary, or gross. A petty misdemeanor usually comes with a small fine and sometimes a short sentence in a local jail, with house arrest or community service occasionally offered as an alternative. An ordinary misdemeanor will have a larger fine and mandatory time in a local jail, while a gross misdemeanor will come with an even harsher sentence that is typically served in a county prison rather than a state or federal prison.


A felony is the most severe classification, and it is typically reserved for violent crimes, repeated offenses, or severe property damage. Rape, homicide, arson, and armed robberies are common examples of felonies, although some nonviolent crimes like fraud may also fall under the felony classification.

Felonies come with a mandatory jail sentence, typically more than a year, that is served in a state or federal prison. The length of the sentence is determined by the type and severity of the crime, along with the past criminal record of the accused. Further, the accused may be required to pay restitution to the victims or a fine.

Regardless of the classification, contact a criminal defense attorney at a law firm like Cohen Law Offices, LLC if you are charged with a crime.