Criminal law is the body of law that relates to so-called “public wrongs.” Criminal law does not concern itself with disputes between individuals, but relates to offenses against the public order.
The federal government, along with cities and states, define and prosecute people who commit crimes that range from minor traffic violations to serious, violent offenses.
Washington State breaks their crimes into two major groups: Felonies and Misdemeanors.
Whether a crime falls into one category or the other depends on the potential punishment. If a law provides for imprisonment for longer than a year, it is usually considered a felony.
If the potential punishment is for a year or less, then the crime is considered a misdemeanor.
There are two categories of misdemeanors in Washington state:
Gross Misdemeanors (punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or a $5,000 fine)
Misdemeanors (punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine).
In 1993 Washington became the first state to pass a “three strikes and you’re out” law. Washington now has both a “three strikes” law and a “two strikes” law. Each law specifies a list of crimes for which a third or, in the case of certain sex offenses, a second conviction results in a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Generally speaking, a felony is a crime for which the sentence may be more than one year in prison. In the state of Washington, there are three classes of felonies:
• Class A (maximum penalty of life in prison and $50,000 fine)
• Class B (maximum penalty 10 years in prison and $20,000 fine)
• Class C (maximum penalty 5 years in prison and $10,000 fine)
Sentencing in felony cases is governed by the Sentence Reform Act of 1981, which established determinate sentencing based on the seriousness level of the offense (levels I – XVI; level I being the least serious) and the defendant’s “offender score.” The offender score is determined by looking at the number and type of prior convictions.