Experts Speak

Why Are Crimes Classified into Different Degrees — and Does This Impact on Case Management and Tracking?

Crime classifications may be familiar to you from TV shows and movies involving the police or the courtroom.

Of course, until you’ve encountered the justice system first hand, you might not know what purpose these different degrees of criminal offense serve, let alone the influence this has over how cases move forward.

To clear this up, we’ll talk you through the role that crime classifications play, what separates the degrees from one another, and how this plays out from an administrative perspective.

The basics

Grouping crimes according to the seriousness of the act committed is generally done for the sake of convenience, as it makes it easier to assign punishments according to the bracket into which each offense falls.

The two main groups are felonies and misdemeanors, with the former covering crimes of a worse nature for which the punishments are the most stringent.

There are regional differences in how crimes are classified; for instance, New Jersey doesn’t refer to crimes as either felonies or misdemeanors, but instead distinguishes between indictable crimes and disorderly persons offenses.

States can also choose to take a different approach to determining the severity of punishments depending on what classifications are given. Drug possession might be a felony in one state, but a misdemeanor in another, for example.

All of this goes towards creating a framework around which legal professionals can base their decisions, whether that’s attorneys mounting a defense for a client, or a judge choosing a sentence for a convicted criminal.

The degrees of crime

In plenty of places, felonies are further broken down by degree, with first degree offenses earning the biggest potential punishment for the perpetrator, and so on.

Examples of first degree offenses

Murder, kidnapping and human trafficking are all commonly classed as first degree crimes in the states that use this system.

Typically a crime can be elevated from a lower degree of severity to this upper tier epoch if it involves some kind of violence. Aggravated robbery, perhaps involving a deadly weapon, is covered by this in places like Texas.

Examples of four degree offenses

At the other end of the spectrum, a typical fourth degree offense is still comparatively serious, but doesn’t come with the same scope for punishment.

In states like New Jersey, shoplifting, promoting prostitution and property damage caused by criminal mischief up to the value of $2,000 all fall under this category.

Examples of capital offenses

A number of states have the death penalty available as a form of punishment, in which case there are capital offenses which sit above first degree felonies.

Florida and Texas are two such examples, with capital murder covering crimes like killing an on-duty police officer, killing a child, or killing someone in exchange for payment. In Florida, there is even capital drug trafficking, which is a classification that primarily exists as a means to fight back against the trade of illegal narcotics that blights this particular state.

Examples of Class A misdemeanors

With misdemeanors, degree classifications may be used, but it’s also common for states to refer to them in terms of classes. It’s really an instance of small semantic differences creating confusion when comparing crimes across states.

The most serious misdemeanors can be referred to as Class A offenses, under which banner assault tends to fall. Remember that assault doesn’t actually need to involve physical contact between two parties, but can be proven based on nothing more than the legitimate threat of violence.

Exploring exacerbating factors

Before we move on from talking about different crime classifications, it’s worth nothing that these don’t just exist in a vacuum, but are influenced by factors such as the accused’s criminal history.

People who have been convicted of similar crimes in the past could have a misdemeanor elevated to a felony. Likewise if the motivation for the crime was down to bias against a victim based on their race or gender, the classification could change.

The influence over case management and tracking

Taking the classification of crimes into account when managing and tracking case files is obviously important, and does have the potential to add additional overheads to the way that each case is handled by legal teams.

However, modern legal automation platforms take a lot of the strain out of this process, meaning that the tasks which used to be taken care of manually are now streamlined further through software.

Workflows are ironed out, clients can be kept satisfied, and it’s even possible to embrace advanced reporting to better visualize the ebb and flow of large caseloads.

The bottom line

You don’t need to be a legal professional to know about how crimes are classified, and it’s useful to look into the way that the rules apply in your region to appreciate where you stand.

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by Sushree Swagatika

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