There are two main categories of laws in the United States which are meant to punish wrongdoing or to compensate victims of criminal acts. These categories are civil laws and criminal laws.
Civil laws are intended to handle behaviors that cause some injury to an individual or another private party. Civil laws are implemented primarily through lawsuits in court.
The consequences for parties who are found liable in civil cases are typically monetary. However, they may also include other court-ordered remedies, such as injunctions or restraining orders.
Criminal laws, on the other hand, are designed to deal with behaviors considered offenses against the public, the state, or society, even in cases where the victim is an individual. A defendant, or the perpetrator of a crime, may be ordered to pay criminal fines, or they may lose their freedom by being sentenced to prison or jail time.
A defendant has the right to a trial and other legal protections, whether charged with a minor or serious offense.
What Kinds of Crimes Can Someone be Convicted Of?
Criminal offenses are classified from less serious petty offenses, such as simple theft, to more serious offenses, such as drug trafficking and murder. Each jurisdiction and the federal courts have different means of classifying these offenses, from misdemeanors and disorderly conduct charges to felonies.
Misdemeanors may include a wide range of criminal offenses, including:
Felony crimes include, in general:
- Property crimes, including:
- Drug crimes, including:
- selling; or
- trafficking drugs;
- Sex crimes, including:
- sexual assault;
- some cases of sexual abuse; and
- human trafficking;
- Violent offenses, including:
- White collar crimes, including:
It is important to note that certain offenses can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on the laws of the state and the circumstances of the incident, including:
Certain criminal offenses may be eligible for expungement or removal from an individual’s criminal record. The process and requirements for obtaining an expungement may vary by jurisdiction.
Certain types of offenses such as speeding and moving violations, are classified as infractions. These violations only affect an individual’s driving record but do not affect their criminal record.
There is also another category of juvenile crimes or crimes committed by minors. These crimes are adjudicated in a separate legal system called the juvenile justice system.
The type of crime that an individual may be charged with depends on where the offense occurred. There may be some confusion regarding whether the offense will be charged under federal or state law.
There are also specific laws in certain jurisdictions, such as states or cities, that may differ from the rest of the country. Because of all these nuances and variations, it may be helpful to consult with a criminal attorney no matter what an individual’s criminal law issue involves.
What are Age-Based Criminal Offenses?
Certain activities are classified as criminal offenses when minors or juveniles commit them. These types of criminal offenses are based upon the individual’s age when the offense was committed.
Age-based offenses are also referred to as status offenses. These may include:
- Truancy, or an unexcused absence from school;
- Violation of juvenile curfew laws;
- Purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol; and
- Purchasing cigarettes or lottery tickets.
- Status offenses are based upon the legal theory of parents patriae, meaning parent of the nation. This theory refers to the power of the government or the state to regulate situations that may be dangerous for minors.
What are Juvenile Crimes?
Juvenile crimes are crimes that are committed by children or minors, also called juveniles, who are usually under the age of 18. It is important to note that the age of majority may vary by state, for example, 19 in Alabama.
In the majority of states, the maximum age an individual may be charged with a juvenile crime is 16 or 17. In addition, most states consider a child who is 14 years of age or older to have the capacity to commit a criminal offense intentionally.
Children who are 7 years of age or older are, in general, deemed to be incapable of intentionally committing a crime. This is due to the fact that they are considered to be too young to fully understand the differences between right and wrong.
There is still a possibility, however, that a young child may be held liable for committing the crime of homicide. There are numerous differences between the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system.
Separate laws and rules govern these two systems. There are, however, certain factors that may cause a juvenile to be tried and processed through the adult criminal justice system, including cases when:
- The crime was particularly shocking or outrageous; or
- The juvenile is a repeat offender.
For example, juveniles may be tried as adults for certain offenses, including:
- Homicide; and
- Repeated theft.
This means that the perpetrator may face harsher penalties and have less chance of taking advantage of alternative forms of punishment.
What are the Legal Consequences for Age-Based Criminal Offenses?
Most age-based offenses are relatively minor crimes, usually treated as misdemeanors or traffic violations. The legal consequences for a conviction of one of these violations may include monetary criminal fines or incarceration in jail for less than one year.
More serious crimes, including juvenile felonies, may be punishable by incarceration in prison. In certain cases, a juvenile may be tried as an adult.
In numerous states, the parents of a juvenile offender may be held legally accountable for the criminal actions of their child. A parent may be jailed or fined under these state laws.
Truancy and curfew violations are common examples of aged-based offenses for which a parent may be liable.
What is Diversion of a Juvenile Offense?
Diversion is a legal process that allows juvenile status offenders to be directed to an alternative rehabilitation program. Diversion laws permit an aged-based offender to bypass the formal court system.
For example, instead of jail time, a juvenile offender may be permitted to work with a rehabilitation agency to correct the juvenile’s behavior. Diversion was created in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was codified in the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act of 1974. The movement toward using diversion was created because of public perception of age-based offenses.
Many believed that age-based status offenses were, in some cases, relatively minor compared to the harsh legal penalties handed down. Currently, juveniles who are granted diversion are classified as Children in Need of Supervision (CHINS) or Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS).
Diversion is not available in every jurisdiction or for all age-based offenses. A minor may still be subject to formal court proceedings.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Age-Based Criminal Offenses?
If you or your child has been charged with an age-based offense, consulting with a juvenile lawyer may be helpful. Although most age-based offenses are relatively minor, they may harm your child’s criminal record.
An attorney can represent you or your child in court and determine whether any defenses may be available in the case. In addition, your attorney can inquire as to whether your child qualifies for an alternative measure, such as diversion.