Classification of Offences
What are the classes of offense?
What is offense or what do you understand as offense in totality? An offense is defined as an act of breaking a Law, engaging in illegal act or a crime. Offenses are not equal in all proportions.The "weight" of offenses vary. An act or omission which renders the person doing the act or making the emission liable to punishment under this code, or under any Act, or Law, is called an offense (section 2 of the 1990 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). As there are differences between small lake and an ocean, so are differences in the categories of offenses.
In Roman Catholic Christian denomination, there is what is called venial and mortal sins. These two types of sins do not have the same gravity and neither do they have the same punishment. Venial sins attract fewer punishments and can be easily forgiven. Mortal sins have bigger weight than venial, it attracts more punishments. Mortal sins are forgiven with confession and more penances. This instance is given for more understanding of the topic that will be discussed. In the same approach, the punishments given in the three basic classifications of offenses are not the same. The weight of any offence is dependent on the nature of the punishment the offender receives or will receive. The offense committed by a young man who woke up in a morning, dressed very smart and walked out to steal a plastic cup sold by a retailer is not the same with that of a "professional” who robbed on the highway and paint the road with the blood of the innocent. This comparison is not equal offenses in any way.
In Law, offenses are categorized based on what is contained in it. This is to say that offenses are dependent on the nature. Under section 3 of the Criminal code of Federal Republic of Nigeria, offenses are classified as felonies, misdemeanours, and simple offenses. The classifications in United States of America have them as felonies, misdemeanours and infractions, which is similar to that of Federal Republic of Nigeria. The reason is because both countries were colonized by the Britain. These three classifications of offenses have individual punishments that await the offenders.
More Light on the Three Classifications of Offences
This heading is for proper explanation on the three principal types of offence in the study of Law. These three are explained thus:
What are felonies?
Felonies are offenses which are punishable without proof of previous conviction with death or imprisonment for three years or more (Federal Republic of Nigeria Criminal Code). The punishment that awaits any offender that commits this kind of offense is dependent on the locality and that is why Federal Republic of Nigeria is included in the bracket.
These are offenses which are declared by the Law governing a particular state and are seen as felonies. When any person commits felony, he faces the punishment that awaits him without bargain of any kind. Under Section 4of the part I of the United State of America Criminal Code, felony and the punishment that awaits the offender is written as “Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both” (under the heading entitled ‘Misprision of Felony’). The punishment that is attached to felony is dependent on any specific country of residence. Comparing that of USA with Nigeria, the punishment that awaits offenders in Nigeria is three years, more or death sentence, while that of USA is three years or less. Examples of felonies are murder, rape and armed robbery.
What are misdemeanours?
Misdemeanours are offenses with punishment of not less than 6 months and not more than three years. Code of Criminal Law of Federal Republic of Nigeria defined it as: A misdemeanour is any offence which is declared by law to be a misdemeanour, or is punishable by imprisonment for not less than six months, but less than three years (under section 3 of chapter one of the 1990 Criminal Code Act). The definition of misdemeanour according to the US code has it as “Any person who violates section 1211 of this title shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and shall, upon conviction thereof, be subject to imprisonment for not more than one year, or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both” . This offense is less serious than felony. An offense that is seen as misdemeanour in Nigeria may not be seen as same in Ghana. The offence that is categorized as misdemeanours is dependent on the angle of perception and nationality.
What are Simple offenses?
As the name sounds, simple offenses are those minor crimes which are punishable by imprisonment for less than six months. According to the Criminal Code Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, simple offense is defined as all offenses, other than felonies and misdemeanours, are simple offenses (section 3 of the Chapter one). In the other words, any crime that is less serious than felony and misdemeanour is classified as simple offense. If I should ask you, if you are to commit an offense, which one among the three types of offenses will you like to find yourself in? I know you will like to choose simple offense so that your punishment will be less. Any person who fall victim of simple offense always thanks his God as his punishment is not much when compared with that of misdemeanour and Felony. When someone intended to commit a simple offense, but did not accomplish his intentions, he is said to attempt to commit the crime.
All citizens of every nation should try to ‘run away’ from any offense that is identified as felony or misdemeanour. The worst thing about felony is that it can ‘eat the head’ of the offender. Even if by mistake, you get involved in a crime, let it be simple offense. No man can boast that he is off from offense, you can even offend someone through conversation for only God cannot make mistake.
Finally, three classifications of offenses were discussed in the write-up. Among these classifications are felony, misdemeanour and simple offenses. The punishments that await the offender that get involved in any of these types were also given. In most cases, the punishments for all the classes of offense are stated in the Constitutional Law of every country.
Types of Criminal Offences by Charles Montaldo;
General Principles of Law in Nigeria by Nick A. Obodo Eso;
1990 Criminal Code Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
US Code-Part I: Crime.