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Classification of Offenses


(I) In the USA the decision of how a crime should be classified rests with the individual jurisdiction. Each state has developed its own body of criminal law and consequently determines its own penalties for the different crimes. Thus, the criminal law of a given state defines and grades offenses, sets levels of punishment, and classifies crimes into different categories.

(II) The most common classification is the division between felonies and misdemeanors. This distinction is based primarily on the degree of seriousness of the crime: a felony is a serious offense and a misdemeanor is a less serious one.

(III) In the United States today, felonies include serious crimes against the person such as criminal homicide, robbery, and rape, or crimes against property, such as burglary and larceny. A felony is punishable by death penalty or imprisonment in a state or federal penitentiary (prison for felons) for more than one year. Misdemeanors include petty larceny, assault and battery, the unlawful possession of drugs, disturbing the peace or reckless driving. A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine or imprisonment in the county jail (local jail for minor offenders) or both, depending upon state law.

(IV) *The felony-misdemeanor classification has a direct effect on the offender charged with the crime. A person convicted of a felony may be barred from certain fields of employment or from entering some professional fields of study, such as law or medicine. A person with a felony offender’s status might be denied the right to hold public office, vote or serve on a jury.

(V) Whether the offender is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor also makes a difference at the time of arrest. Normally, the law of arrest requires that if the crime is a misdemeanor and has not been committed in the presence of a police officer, the officer cannot make an arrest. This is known as the in-presence requirement. In contrast, an arrest for a felony may be made regardless of whether the crime was committed in the officer’s presence, as long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person has committed the felony.

(VI) Another important effect of this classification is that a court’s jurisdiction often depends on whether a crime is considered a felony or a misdemeanor. A person charged with a felony must be tried by a court that has jurisdiction over this type of offense. Some states prosecute felonies only on indictment. This means that a person accused of a felony ordinarily has a legal right to a preliminary hearing and presentment of the charges by indictment of a grand jury or information.*

(VII) In addition to serious felony crimes and less serious offenses labeled misdemeanors, some jurisdictions also have a third category of least serious offenses called violations. These violations, ordinarily of town, city, or county ordinances, are regulatory offenses that may not require criminal intent. Examples include health and sanitary violations, unlawful assembly, public disturbances, and traffic violations. Violations are usually punishable by a fine or a short jail term.


EXERCISE 5. Scan the text and find definitions to these legal terms:

- Felony

- Misdemeanor


EXERCISE 6. Skim the text and make-up a list of:


- serious offenses

- less serious offenses

EXERCISE 7. Read the text and answer the following questions:

1. Who makes the decision of how a crime should be classified in the USA?

2. What is the most common classification of offenses in the USA?

3. What crimes do the felonies include?

4. What crimes do the misdemeanors include?

5. What is the third category of offences?

6. What do violations include?

7. How can a felony be punished?

8. How can a misdemeanor be punished?

9. How can a violation be punished?


EXERCISE 8. Read the text carefully and complete the sentences given below.

1. The most common classification is the division between _________ and misdemeanors.

2. A felony is punishable by ________ ________ or imprisonment.

3. A _________ is punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

4. A person convicted of a felony may ______ ________ from certain fields of employment.

5. A court’s __________ often depends on whether a crime is considered a felony or misdemeanor.

6. Some states prosecute felonies only on _________.

7. Some jurisdictions have a third category of least serious offenses called _________.

8. These violations, ordinarily of town, city or county _________, are regulatory offenses.

EXERCISE 9. Using the paragraph reference given in brackets, find words in the text which have a similar meaning to:

- offense, wrongdoing, an illegal act, violation (I)

- punishment, retribution (I)

- penalty, sentence (I)

- categorize, group, sort, grade (I)

- jail, penitentiary (III)

- be excluded (IV)

- need, demand, provision, order (V)

- reason, justification, motive, cause (V)

- power, authority (VI)

- aim, purpose, idea, plan (VII)

- disorder (VII)


EXERCISE 10. Put the words into the right order (subject–verb-object) to make up sentences.

1. over, state, the individual jurisdiction, of, offenses, has, each, classification.

2. misdemeanors, a division, is, between, there, felonies ,and.

3. the examples, felonies, criminal homicide, and, robbery , rape, of, are.

4. indictment, in, prosecuted, felonies, states, on, some, are, only.

5. a given state, punishment, set ,levels, of, by, are, of, the criminal law.

EXERCISE 11. Make up sentences using the following word combinations:

individual jurisdiction, penalties for the different crimes, different categories, be based on, be punishable, be charged with, be convicted of, be arrested for, be accused of, be tried, may require.


EXERCISE 12. Using the paragraph reference given in brackets, find in the text the English equivalents for these Russian legal terms and expressions.

- совокупность уголовно-правовых норм (I)

- быть запрещенным (IV)

- занимать государственную должность (IV)

- совокупность норм, регулирующих наложение ареста (V)

- произвести арест (V)

- необходимость присутствия (V)

- веские основания (V)

- предварительное слушание (VI)

- обвинительный акт, составленный Большим жюри (VI)

- обвинительное заключение, составленное прокурором без участия Большого жюри (VI)

- постановление муниципального органа (VII)

- правонарушения, находящиеся в юрисдикции регулятивных органов (VII)


EXERCISE 13. Translate the marked * passage of the text CLASSIFICATION OF OFFENSES into Russian.

EXERCISE 14. Read the text given below. Make up questions that may lead to further classroom discussion. Ask your questions to your classmates.



One who is charged with a crime may raise the issue of intoxication as a defense. However the result depends on whether the intoxication was voluntary or involuntary.

Involuntary intoxication may provide a complete excuse for criminal liability under some circumstances. Involuntary intoxication is allowed as a defense if the defendant was tricked into drinking or ingesting alcohol or drugs that rendered him or her incapable of forming the necessary intent for the crime that was committed.

Voluntary intoxication is considered a defense only if, as result of intoxication, the defendant is unable to form the necessary intent required for a specific criminal act. For example, if a person consumed several drinks at a local bar and, in a drunken stupor, attempted to enter the wrong house, he or she would not be guilty of attempted burglary. Some jurisdictions have enacted statutes that remove voluntary intoxication as a defense, since the perpetrator knowingly ingested the alcohol or drugs prior to commission of the crime.


EXERCISE 15. Translate the given passage into English.


Для того чтобы произвести арест, власти должны иметь достаточно доказательств, связывающих подозреваемого с преступлением, то есть иметь разумные основания полагать, что данное лицо виновно в совершении преступления. Отсутствие таких разумных оснований делает арест незаконным. Данный стандарт применяется и в отношении ордера на обыск. Основанием для выдачи этого ордера также должна быть достаточная информация, иначе доказательства, полученные в результате обыска, на процессе будут исключены из рассмотрения. Более того, сразу же после ареста власти должны проинформировать обвиняемого о его праве не давать никаких показаний и воспользоваться услугами адвоката-защитника, иначе любые заявления, сделанные им после ареста также будут исключены из дела судом. Таким образом, роль защитника во время ареста состоит в том, чтобы оценить, был ли арест произведен при наличии разумных оснований, был ли любой исполненный ордер основан на достаточной информации, и не были ли права обвиняемого нарушены во время ареста или проведения последующих допросов.


¯Focus on grammar. The -ing forms


The – ing forms can function either as a present participle, a verbal noun or gerund.

Translate the following examples into Russian paying attention to the -ing forms.


1. A man intending to harm his friend after a disagreement hits him in the head.

2. Circumstances that mitigate the killing.

3. Wrongful taking and carrying away of personal property is punishable by law.

4. A woman buys some poison, intending to kill her husband.

5. A man seeing a stranger sitting in his favorite seat in the cafeteria pushes him out of the seat.

6. He thinks that social drinking is disgusting.

7. Intentional killing committed under extenuating circumstances.

8. He seized a chair and began to wave it around his head, striking students who happen to be in his path.

9. Admitting no definite alibi for the time of the murder, Dr Gooding stated that he wanted to confer with his attorney.


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