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A Look At The Classification Of Offences in Canada and the United States

This submission was provided by a guest blogger. Updated: 2022

There are various crimes that people commit.  In the United States the most serious crimes are classified as felonies.   A felony includes crimes like murder, terrorism, cocaine trafficking, etc. Felony crimes can be punishable by life or in certain states capital crimes are punishable by death.

Minor offences are considered misdemeanors.  The U.S. federal government generally considers all crimes where the maximum sentence is one year or less a misdemeanor.

Different misdemeanors, depending on the state, will have different classifications and subject to differing penalties.

In the U.S., states will also classify their felonies differently and the punishments are usually ties to class of felony.

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Felony Classifications under United States Federal Law:

Class A

The maximum punishment for a class A felony is often a life sentence or death. The maximum fine is $250,000 and the maximum supervised release term is five years.

Class B

These offences carry maximum punishments of twenty-five years or more, fines of up to $250,000 and the maximum supervised release term of five years.

Class C

Sentences in this class range from ten years to less than twenty-five years, fines up to $250,000 and the maximum supervised release is up to three years.

Class D

A Class D felony will provide a sentence between five and ten years, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.

Class E

This type of felony involves a sentence between one and five years, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to one year of supervised release.

Offence Classifications in Canada:

In Canada, the available punishments do not differ by province.  The available sentences are the same across the country.  Canadian law does not have misdemeanors and felonies.  The system is based on three types of offences: Indictable, Hybrid and Summary (Including Super-Summary).


Indictable offences capture crimes such as murder, manslaughter, robbery, extortion, cocaine trafficking and other serious crimes.  The maximum sentence available in Canadian law is a mandatory sentence for first-degree murder of life imprisonment without parole for twenty-five years.  Crimes such as robbery have a maximum life sentence, however, this sentence is rarely imposed.  Some indictable crimes also have mandatory minimums such as robbery with a firearm (minimum five-year prison sentence if convicted).

All indictable offences (except for certain absolute jurisdiction offences) give an accused the right to choose a preliminary inquiry and elect to have a judge alone or jury trial.  Murder trials are always jury trials unless the Crown and Defence consent or a special motion is argued successfully before a judge.

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Summary offences are punishable by a maximum sentence of six months in jail.  Simple assault is an example of a summary offence.  For these matters, you have no choice of mode of trial but will automatically have a trial in the Ontario Court of Justice judge alone.


A large amount of offences are hybrid.  The Crown gets to choose how to proceed when the charge is hybrid.  The Crown can choose (elect) to proceed by indictment or summary.  Many hybrid offences are “super-summary” meaning that they carry a maximum sentence of eighteen months.  Some examples of super summary offences are assault bodily harm and criminal harassment.

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