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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essay on Categories of Felonies

            The five categories of crime which are felonies, misdemeanors, offenses, treason and espionage and inchoate offenses all involve violation of the criminal laws of a state, except for offenses which are classified as civil offenses. As such, the accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence which is protected under the constitution.  In the prosecution of these crimes, the prosecutor must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.  It is not enough for the accused to prove by preponderance of evidence or clear and convincing evidence that the accused is probably guilty of the crime.  The standard of proof is higher which is beyond reasonable doubt.  Moreover, the prosecutor will not be entitled to a conviction and the accused shall be adjudged not guilty if the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is not rebutted.

            Though they are all considered crimes, there are substantial differences between them.  A felony is used to describe a serious crime such as arson, murder, robbery, rape, treason and espionage.  Crimes classified as felonies are punishable by at least one year and sometimes even by death.  Moreover, persons charged with crimes which are considered as felonies have the right to a court-appointed attorney in case he cannot afford to hire the services of his own private attorney (“Felonies vs. Misdemeanors: What’s the Difference?”, 2010, p.1).  In these cases, there have been instances when the court reversed the conviction of an accused based on the ground that he was denied the opportunity to be represented by a counsel during trial.  A person charged with felony is required to be present in court during the trial (“Felonies vs. Misdemeanors: What’s the Difference?”, 2010, p.1). If he refuses to be present, he can be arrested by the court to ensure his appearance in court. 

            On the other hand, a misdemeanor is used to describe a less serious crime which is punishable by imprisonment of less than one year.  Some examples of felonies are disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, and simply assault.  A person charged with misdemeanor does not have the right to a court-appointed attorney if he cannot afford the services of a private attorney (“Felonies vs. Misdemeanors: What’s the Difference?”, 2010, p.1).  On the other hand, a person accused of misdemeanor does not need to be present during the trial and he may be represented by his own counsel (“Felonies vs. Misdemeanors: What’s the Difference?”, 2010, p.1).

            Offenses are generic terms which are used to describe any violation of a law.  An offense may be a civil offense or a criminal offense.  In a civil offense, only civil laws are violated and the punishment is limited to the payment of a specific amount or loss of property.  In civil offenses, the standard of proof required is only preponderance of evidence.  The preponderance of evidence is a lesser standard of evidence compared to proof beyond reasonable doubt.  The prosecution in civil offenses needs only to establish that based on the evidence they presented the facts it is asserting is more likely to be true.  There is also no presumption of innocence in favor of the defendant in civil cases.

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            Treason and espionage are serious felonies against the United States. Treason is defined under Art III Section 3 as the act of levying war against the United States or adherence to its enemies giving them aid and comfort.  Espionage involves the act of a person who with intent and believe that it will be used to the injury of the United States attempts to communicate, deliver or transmit to an entity any information that involves weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large scale attack, war plans, communications intelligence or any other major weapons system.  Committing the crimes of treason or espionage constitutes capital offenses which may be punished by death. Because of the penalty imposed treason and espionage are more serious crimes compared to the other offenses. 

Another difference between treason and espionage and other felonies is that it does not only require standard of proof of beyond reasonable doubt before a person may be convicted of such crimes.  In addition, it also requires that there must be the testimony of two witnesses to the same act of treason or there must be a confession in open court.  This means that if the accused refuses to confess during trial or the prosecution fails to obtain the testimony of two witnesses during trial a person may not be convicted of treason.  The testimony of the witness or the confession in open court is not essential requirement prior to conviction in other serious felonies.

            Inchoate offenses are called incomplete crimes.  These are acts which involve the inclination to commit in a criminal offense.  They include the attempt, conspiracy, and solicitation to commit a crime.  These crimes are punishable under the criminal laws of the state and may result in the imprisonment of the accused if convicted.  Traditionally, inchoate crimes are minor crimes since there is no actual commission (“Inchoate Crimes” p.1).  However, there have been changes in the legislation making inchoate crimes serious crimes.  In some instances, the penalty for the commission of inchoate offenses may be the same as the penalty for the crime itself. 

In some states, the penalty for the solicitation of prostitution may be equal to the penalties for prostitution itself.  The difference between inchoate crimes and other felonies is that the prosecution needs to establish that there is a specific intent to commit or contribute to the actual crime.  There is no such requirement in other felonies.  Generally, the criminal intent may be inferred from the actual criminal act.  For instance, when an accused discharges his gun towards his victim, the intent to kill may be presumed from the criminal act.  However, to obtain conviction for the inchoate offense of possession of a listed chemical it is necessary to prove that there is a specific intent to manufacture controlled substances.  

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