To the average person, America’s legal system can seem intimidating in its complexity. Even so, it’s possible to build an understanding of and appreciation for certain core concepts that impact many of us at some point.
Crime classification is a good example of this because it teaches us not only how different criminal acts are ordered in terms of their severity, but also how there are regional differences in the categorization of crimes, as well as the associated punishments.
To keep things simple, we’ll go through some fourth-degree offenses, and discuss their broader status across a few states.
Example: Fourth-degree crimes in New Jersey
Right out the gate, New Jersey bucks legal trends by not using the labels of ‘misdemeanor’ or ‘felony’ found elsewhere in the US. Instead, it opts for ‘disorderly person offenses’ for lower-level acts, and ‘indictable crimes’ for the more serious examples.
There are several offenses that classify as a 4th-degree crime in NJ, including shoplifting, marijuana distribution, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and property damage below a value of $2,000. If found guilty, you could face up to 18 months behind bars, and a fine of up to $10,000.
Example: Class four felonies in California
Over on the west coast, fourth-degree crimes are indeed defined as felonies, and they sit at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of their comparative severity, with class one felonies being the most serious.
Violent crimes including manslaughter and vehicular homicide, as well as non-violent crimes like possession of illegal drugs and perjury, are considered class four felonies in California. It can also cover things like cybercrime, although this is still an area that the law is playing catch-up to at the moment.
It’s worth noting that there’s also an allowance for class four felonies to potentially be reclassified as misdemeanors, depending on the facts of the case and the circumstances surrounding it. For instance, DUIs are considered class four but could be downgraded at the discretion of the authorities involved.
Example: Felonies in Florida
Another outlier in terms of felony classifications in Florida, but only because of how it refers to the different tiers of criminal acts it recognizes.
The lowest level here is felonies of the third degree, although, in reality, this is the fourth level because there is one above first-degree felony, which is known as a life felony.
Theft of a vehicle, trespassing on private property while carrying a firearm, and aggravated stalking all get covered by the banner of felonies of the third degree in this state.
Furthermore, there are enhanced sentences for any person who has already got at least two felony convictions on their record, which will increase the fine and the jail time that they’re liable to receive if they are convicted again in the future.
How do handle criminal accusations, felony charges, and other unwanted repercussions
No matter what part of the country you live in, or where you are accused of a crime, you need a good lawyer who specializes in the type of felony or misdemeanor that’s landed in your lap.
It’s also unwise to assume that you know all there is to know about the legal system in your local area, just because you’ve had experience with it in the past, or you know someone who’s been involved with it beforehand.
There’s no point in taking any chances because your freedom and your finances will be on the line, so listen to expert advice and use your right to silence.