Basically, there are 2 types of crimes that people commit:

  1. Petty stuff that disrupts the general law and order of society; and
  2. Big stuff, where a person done f’ed up and there’s going to be some serious consequences

[Yes, I’m making light of serious crime, but I did it to give you a mnemonic device to remember that felonies are the worse of the two types of crime.]

The classification between misdemeanors and felonies are handled by each state. Generally speaking, though, you can pretty much assume universal agreement on the following short list of crimes.

Crimes by Classifications


  • Assault & Battery*
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Sex for a fee
  • Indecent explosure
  • Perjury
  • Receiving stolen property*
  • Resisting arrest
  • Shoplifting
  • Threats
  • Trespassing
  • Welfare fraud

  • Arson
  • Armed robbery or assault
  • Breaking & entering
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Intimidating a witness
  • Kidnapping
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Stalking

* This crime may be reclassified as a felony depending on details.

Speaking of mnemonic devices, back in the Police Academy we used “Mr. & Mrs. Lamb” as a way of remembering the big felonies:
Murder, Rape, Manslaughter, Robbery, Sodomy, Larceny, Arson, Mayhem, Burglary

When you’re writing about crime, keeping in mind the severity of the act helps keep your characters’ responses authentic. Those responses, of course, also need to be tempered by other intersecting factors. For example:

  • A small town force with few major crimes may come down hard on certain misdemeanors for out-of-town visitors – while assuming a we’ll-let-your-daddy-take-care-of-you-at-home attitude with locals.

  • On the other hand, street cops in high crime cities might look the other way for certain misdemeanors because the time it takes to go to court isn’t worth the effort.

  • Street cops handle the day-to-day processing of misdemeanors; however first responders are generally required to secure the scene of a major crime and call in police investigators, who will then handle interviewing witnesses and tracking down suspects.

  • Larger police agencies generally have well-trained investigators who handle a specific type of felony, whereas smaller agency investigators tend to handle whatever major crime comes their way. This can cause problems, as investigating a murder is vastly different from a sexual assault.

  • Certain drug crimes will need state-specific research to ensure authenticity. For example, it is legal to purchase marijuana in a handful of states but it’s been decriminalized to possess marijuana in even more.

  • When writing about crime, you’ll also want to be familiar with Federal laws. You can download a free list of Federal misdemeanors here.

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Do you need help in understanding the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony?

Schedule a telephone consultation today.


Written by Nic

A veteran law enforcement officer with 26+ years of experience, Sgt. Nicodemus consults with writers looking for a more authentic voice in their fictional crime writing.

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