How are federal crimes classified?

Federal crimes are classified by a letter grade. The letter grades range from A to E. For example, a Class A Felony is the most serious grade because it carries the most severe punishment. The punishment includes either life in prison or the death penalty. In contrast, a Class E Felony is the least serious felony because it carries between 1-5 years in jail.

Similarly, misdemeanor crimes are also classified by a letter grade. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious. They carry up to one year in jail. On the other hand, petty crimes are the least serious because they carry the lowest jail time. Furthermore, the table below lists every classification for federal crimes.

18 USC § 3559 Crime Classification Table

Classification of Federal OffensesMaximum Jail Term
Grade A FelonyLife imprisonment or the death penalty.
Grade B Felony
Twenty-five (25) years or more in prison.
Grade C Felony
Less than twenty-five (25) years, but ten (10) or more years in prison.
Grade D FelonyLess than ten (10) years, but five (5) or more years in prison.
Grade E FelonyLess than five (5) years, but more than one (1) year in prison.
Class A MisdemeanorOne (1) year or less, but more than six (6) months in jail.
Class B Misdemeanor
(Petty Offense)
Six (6) months or less, but more than thirty (30) days in jail.
Class C Misdemeanor
(Petty Offense)
Thirty (30) days or less, but more than five (5) days in jail.
Infraction
(Petty Offense)
Five (5) days or less in jail. Or offenses with no authorized jail time.

What is a petty offense?

A petty offense is a federal crime that carries up to six months in jail and up to a $ 5,000.00 fine. Petty offenses include Class B misdemeanors, Class C misdemeanors, and Infractions.

Why does the grade classification matter?

It matters for several reasons. First, the letter grade reflects the seriousness of the crime. Second, defendants charged with a Class A or Class B felony are not eligible for probation. Third, the felony classification will determine how long a defendant is on federal supervised release.

Fight your Federal Charges.

There are different ways to fight a federal case. The most traditional approach is to plead not guilty and go to trial. But this option carries a huge risk. If you lose at trial, then you can face a stiff punishment.

Alternatively, you can negotiate a plea deal for a lower sentence. For example, in drug cases, some prosecutors are willing to waive the drug quantity in the indictment. This helps defendants in several ways. First, it removes the mandatory-minimum sentence in a case. This gives the judge the option of giving a sentence below either the five-year or ten-year minimum.

Second, it lowers the felony grade from a Class A to a Class C. This technically makes a drug defendant eligible for probation. However, probation in federal drug cases is rare. Finally, the lower grade can shorten the time a defendant is on supervised release after he gets out of jail.

To summarize, the grade level of the crime plays an important role in the defendant’s final sentence. The lower the grade level of the offense, the more options the defendant will have at sentencing. And that is the goal in every criminal case. To increase the odds of getting the lowest sentence possible.

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