Crimes and Punishments in the US
The United States has a sophisticated legal system that steers court cases and other legal matters, at both the State and Federal levels. While considered a younger nation, the US has developed many State and Federal laws, which are governed by the Judiciary Branch and the states’ judiciaries. The Judicial Branch is headed by the US Supreme Court, which is made up of nine justices. Their main purpose is to enforce the Constitution, as well as to limit the powers of the other two branches of government: the Legislative and Executive branches. The Judiciary Branch has the power of judicial review, which means that its justices help to determine which laws and policies are constitutional and thus allowable.
The Main Categories of US Law
Laws in the US fit into two major groupings: Criminal and Civil. Criminal Laws are the regulations that apply when someone commits a violent or non-violent crime. These include murder, manslaughter, assault, battery, robbery, arson, rape / sexual assault and many other kinds of violent and non-violent crimes. Criminal cases are tried at Criminal Courts, at the Federal or State levels.
Civil laws apply to all other court cases. These include real estate matters such as for eviction or foreclosure, family law, debt or bankruptcy, or personal injury. These cases are tried in Civil Courts. Civil cases result in rulings that involve payment of funds or discontinuing certain offensive activities. Instead of punishing the losing party, the court mandates it take certain actions, like paying a debt, maintaining a parenting schedule or vacating a property.
Criminal Court Sentencing
Criminal cases fall into three main categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and petty offences. Felonies are grouped into 5 different levels:
Class A or Level One Felonies - these the most serious crimes. They generally incur long prison sentences and high financial penalties.
Class B and Level Two Felonies- these are severe crimes, but not the most serious. This category can carry tough penalties, such as a lengthier prison sentences and higher fines.
Class C and Level Three Felonies – as a less serious felony category, crimes that fall into it generally incur mid-length prison sentences and moderate fines.
Class D and Level Four Felonies and Class E and Level 5 Felonies – these categories carry shorter sentences and lower fines.
Misdemeanors are lesser types of crime that are usually punished by a monetary fine and/or a short jail sentence of less than one year. They are also grouped into three or four categories, depending on the state.
It is important to note that the actual sentencing guidelines can vary greatly from state to state, meaning that someone convicted in the same class of felony or misdemeanor can be sentenced very differently, depending on what state’s jurisdiction he or she is in.
Federal vs. State Court Cases
If a crime occurs within a certain state’s boundaries, and violates the law in that state, it usually falls under the jurisdiction of the state. If a crime that occurs on federal property, such as a national park, or involves interstate activities, it becomes a Federal case. It is possible for a crime to violate both State and Federal law, enabling both governments to bring criminal charges. Certain categories of crimes, like terrorism, qualify as Federal crimes.
The Death Penalty
Crimes that are classified as Federal could receive the death penalty in certain situations. These crimes are always very serious and almost always particularly violent. Currently, thirty states out of fifty allow the death penalty, while the other twenty do not. The method by which convicts are executed vary from state to state, and include lethal injection, and electrocution. Because the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, older methods of execution, such as hanging and death by firing squad have been largely phased out. If someone is sentenced to death, they often stay imprisoned on Death Row for years, awaiting execution and attempting to appeal their sentence.
The US Federal and State law is complex and varies widely depending on key variables present in each criminal and civil case. It is important to seek out professional legal help to navigate the particulars of each case and achieve the best outcomes possible.