In the United States, there are two categories of laws which are intended to punish wrongdoing and/or compensate the victims of those wrongdoings. These categories are known as criminal law and civil law.
Civil law addresses behavior that causes some sort of injury to a person, or to another private party through lawsuits. Penalties for such acts are generally monetary, but can also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions or restraining orders.
Alternatively, criminal law is intended to address behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is one individual person. Someone who is convicted of a crime will be forced to pay fines; additionally, they may lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time.
It is important to note that there are only two bodies that are able to bring a criminal case against someone: either the federal government, or a state government. This is why cases are generally notated as US v. Person, or State v. Person. Whether the accused is charged in a federal court or in a state court largely depends on what crime they are being charged with. Another determining factor would be where the alleged offense occurred, as each state has their own set of criminal laws.
However, there are specific Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant, no matter what the crime is or where it happened. Whether they are being charged with a serious crime or a minor one, the accused person still has their right to a trial, as well as certain other legal protections.
Some examples of these Constitutional rights include, but may not be limited to:
- The Right To a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment is what specifically guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. This right is in place in order to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended periods of time, without appropriate adjudication;
- The Right To a Jury: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury. Most jurisdictions will allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt is only determined by a judge. However, this is the defendant’s choice only; no other party involved may make this decision but the defendant. Additionally, this right is only universal with criminal prosecution, as civil trials maintain their own rules associated with jury rights;
- Miranda Rights: As the result of a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one. This attorney is to aid in their defense and ensure their criminal rights are protected; and
- Protection Against Self-Incrimination: This right is most commonly known as pleading the fifth. As a Constitutional protection, a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.
What Is A Lesser Included Offense?
As previously discussed, a crime is any action that society deems punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. The majority of crimes are divided into two categories, misdemeanors and felonies, which will be further discussed later on. When a person commits more than one crime at a time, they may be charged with all of the crimes, or just one of them. If they are charged with only one crime, that crime is generally the most serious in comparison to the other crimes that were committed at the same time.
A lesser-included offense is a term that is used in criminal law to describe a smaller crime that is contained within a larger crime. The defendant could not have committed the more serious criminal offense without committing this lesser charge.
An example of a lesser-included crime within a greater crime would be larceny and robbery. Larceny, which is most commonly called theft, is the trespassory taking of the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property, and without their permission. Robbery is further defined as larceny committed with the use of force, intimidation, or threat of violence. As such, a person will commit larceny as well if they commit robbery; however, they will likely only be charged with robbery, due to the fact that it was the greater crime of the two.
How Is A Lesser-Included Charge Determined?
Generally speaking, courts consider the charging document alone, as this document describes the criminal charges that are being filed against the defendant. An example of this would be how a defendant may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, in addition to murder. Assault with the deadly weapon would be the lesser-included charge in these circumstances.
In some jurisdictions, the lesser charge is determined by considering the charging document in addition to evidence that is presented by the state. If the prosecution charges a defendant with murder, evidence must also be presented in order to prove that the killing happened with a deadly weapon. The court will then determine that the murder charge is the greater charge of the two.
What Is The Difference Between A Misdemeanor Crime And A Felony Crime?
A misdemeanor crime is a specific type of criminal offense that is considered to be more serious than a citation but less serious than felony charges. In most states, the distinguishing feature of a misdemeanor is that it is generally punishable by a sentence of one year maximum in a county jail facility. This cannot be served at a state prison facility, which is generally reserved for felony charges.
As it is a broad range of crimes that are classified as misdemeanors, misdemeanor crimes can range from assault and battery to property crimes. Additionally, individual state laws can vary considerably in terms of which crimes are classified as misdemeanors.
Some of the most common examples of misdemeanor crimes include, but may not be limited to:
Generally speaking, a felony is any criminal offense resulting in a prison sentence of one year or longer. These are crimes that involve an element of violence, and are considered to be harmful or dangerous to society. Additionally, felony crimes include some of the most serious types of crimes that a person can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson.
There are some criminal charges that the majority of states would classify as a felony offense. Some common examples include, but may not be limited to:
- Property Crimes: Grand theft, arson, and vandalism;
- Drug Offenses: Distributing, selling, and/or trafficking drugs;
- Sex Crimes: Sexual assault and human trafficking;
- Violent Offenses: First-degree murder, second-degree murder, and robbery; and/or
- White Collar Crimes: Embezzlement, securities fraud, and tax evasion.
There are two defining differences between a felony and misdemeanor offense. The first is that felony crimes are generally more serious than misdemeanor crimes. Additionally, felonies generally involve an act of violence.
The second difference would be the form of punishment that a convicted person can receive. Because felony crimes are considered to be more severe than misdemeanor offenses, so are their punishments.
Do I Need An Attorney For A Lesser-Included Offense?
If you are being accused of committing multiple crimes, you should speak with an area criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced and local criminal defense lawyer can help you determine your legal options according to your state’s specific laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, while protecting your legal rights.