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New York Criminal Law Basics - Crimes and Sentencing

Updated on January 25, 2012

Categories of Crimes

As is the case in most states, New York criminal law divides offenses into two broad categories -- felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are the more serious crimes while misdemeanors include lessor crimes. Consequently, the maximum penalty for a felony offense is higher than that of a misdemeanor offense. Within the category of felony offenses, New York criminal law further divides offenses into violent and non-violent felonies. Not surprisingly, violent felonies carry the harshest penalties of all crimes.

Level of Crimes

New York criminal law classifies both misdemeanors and felonies using a letter system. Misdemeanors are classified as a level A or level B, for example, while felonies are classified as a level A through level E, with a level A felony being the most serious offense. Within the lettering system, each felony is also classified as a violent or non-violent offense. Aggravated sexual assault in the third degree, for example, is classified as a D violent felony while aggravated criminal intent is a D non-violent felony.

Prior Offenses

Along with the level of offense a person is charged with, the existence, or absence, of prior convictions will also impact the possible sentencing range under New York criminal law if convicted of the current offense. A defendant with no priors, for example, faces less time in prison than someone who has a previous criminal conviction. In the same manner that offenses are divided into violent and non-violent offenses for the purposes of charging a defendant with a crime, previous convictions are likewise classified as violent or non-violent convictions. A previous conviction for a violent crime can also negatively impact a sentence for a current offense.



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    • Julianne Burkett profile image


      5 years ago from Dallas, TX

      I agree, it's far from perfect. Great article!

    • leigia67 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago have valid concerns. I was one of those criminal defense attorneys for years and it's not a perfect system, but it works better than any other I have seen.

    • profile image

      R. J. Lefebvre 

      6 years ago


      Interesting hub. How does the legal system weed out the innocent people who were in the wrong place and time? It seems like some prosecuters concentrate on winning despite shady evidence. On the other hand, sharp defense lawyers who can get anyone off despite the evidence.


    • leigia67 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Kj...On the one hand, I agree. I was a practicing attorney myself for many years and even I find most laws complex. On the other hand, when they are too simple, you end up with two people charged with the same crime, receiving the same sentence, when one clearly deserves a break and the other does not.

    • kj force profile image


      6 years ago from Florida

      Interesting article..however..makes me think we should update and review many laws in this country, perhaps we need to make them less complex, crime could think ? just my thoughts...


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