What Is a Criminal Offense?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2019
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A criminal offense is a violation of the law, which may occur at the federal level or at a lower jurisdictional level. Offenses are generally classified as misdemeanors or felonies. The consequences can vary depending upon the crime and may include incarceration, fines, or even death. In most democratic societies, a person cannot be convicted of a criminal offense unless he admits guilt or the allegations against him are proven.

A jurisdiction may be regulated by several legal codes, including an administrative, civil, and criminal code. When a person fails to comply with a portion of the criminal code, he commits a criminal offense. There are usually two categories in which a criminal offense can fall — misdemeanor or felony.

Misdemeanors are generally considered to be minor crimes. This may include offenses such as shoplifting, public drunkenness, and trespassing. Felony offenses, which are the more serious violations, include crimes such as rape, embezzlement, and attempted murder. The consequences for these two categories of crimes differ. For example, some misdemeanors do not pose a threat of incarceration and a person is not required to appear in court.


If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor that does allow him to be incarcerated, there is normally a limited jail sentence that can be imposed. Felonies allow a person to receive substantially longer sentences, which are often carried out in prisons instead of jails. Certain felonies may even allow a death sentence to be imposed. Other punishments for criminal offenses include fines, probation, and community service.

A criminal offense can occur under more than one system of law. For example, drug possession and drug distribution can be federal or state offenses. There are a number of factors that determine which legal system will handle the case. These can include who made the arrest and the area covered during the commission of the crime.

In most democratic societies, if a person is accused of a criminal offense, the court must consider him to be innocent until he is proven guilty. This means that the accuser, which is generally a prosecutor, bears the burden of proving the allegations made against the individual unless he confesses. Depending how serious the charges against a person are, he may be entitled to legal representation even if he cannot afford it. Once convicted, a criminal offense is usually recorded and remains on a person's record for life. This record of offenses can adversely affect a person's life in a number of ways, such as preventing him from qualifying for certain jobs or public benefits.


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How do I view someone else's criminal records and see what his probation entails? I know of a person convicted and jailed and put on probation that still gets arrested, for the original crime, plus tests dirty on everything on his drug tests. His probation officer never reports these findings or he would be back in prison on his original drug charges. How does this work?

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