Crime Classification: Where To Draw the Line?

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As popularity never fades, there is a perpetual supply of crime related shows, but what makes a crime, a crime? Wisconsin State Legislature defines crime as “conduct which is prohibited by state law and is punishable by fine or imprisonment (or both).” (Statute 939.12) Most people know that criminal actions are sorted into categories based on their severity. These categories include infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Infractions are considered the mildest of the three, and felonies classify the most serious crimes committed. Depending on the severity or classification of the crime, the court procedures and minimum sentence guidelines are different. Each case also has its own ‘flavor’, meaning they are examined on a case-by-case basis.

In the state of Wisconsin, there are only two of the classifications mentioned above, misdemeanors and felonies. “A crime punishable by imprisonment in the Wisconsin state prisons is a felony. Every other crime is a misdemeanor.” (Wisconsin State Legislature 939.60) This is the difference between being ‘jailed’ (being incarcerated for no more than 365 days) and being sent to a state prison where incarceration lasts for a year or more. I will still give a little information about infractions.


An infraction is the “violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule.” (FindLaw 2018) Apart from previously mentioned minor traffic violations, here are a few more common examples of infractions:

  • Fishing without a license
  • Building permit violations
  • Drinking in public
  • Walking an unleashed dog

The infraction process begins when a citation is issued to a person by law enforcement. The ticket determines the case number, includes a description of the action and the state law or city code the action violates, the name of the issuer, the location of the courthouse, the deadlines for paying the fine or for an appearance in court, and lastly, instructions on how to pay the forfeiture. (FindLaw 2018)


A misdemeanor covers a very broad area of criminal activity and is a step below a felony. Misdemeanors usually include a fine and/or jail time less than a full year in a local or county jail (as opposed to a longer sentence in a state prison). In Wisconsin, misdemeanors are separated into classifications of A, B and C (A being more serious violations), and each has their own penalties as follows:

  • A Class A misdemeanor includes penalties of a fine that should not exceed $10,000, imprisonment longer than 9 months, or both. An example of a Class A misdemeanor is the theft of property worth no more than $2,500.
  • Class B misdemeanors include a fine that should not exceed $1,000 or imprisonment of 90 days or both. A situation that may be classified as a Class B misdemeanor would be disorderly conduct.
  • A Class C misdemeanor includes a fine that should not be greater than $500, an imprisonment that should not exceed 30 days or both. An example is a second conviction within 30 months for being a minor in possession of alcohol.

While a misdemeanor still isn’t a felony, these offenses are considered “crimes of moral turpitude”, which reflects a lack of knowledge of basic right and wrong, as well as a lack of a moral code of self-conduct. This depravity can negatively affect an individual’s ability to apply for scholarships and their ability to apply for and procure a job.


There is a fine line regarding the ethical standards of people convicted of a misdemeanor versus those convicted of a felony. As mentioned before, being sent to jail for misdemeanor calls for no more than 365 days of incarceration. An individual is sent to prison when they have been convicted of a felony and will serve time greater than a year. There are 9 classifications of felonies, A through I. Similar to misdemeanors, classification A is made up of more serious crimes, and in this case, the most heinous.

  • Class A felonies are punishable by life in prison. An example is a first-degree murder, which is carrying out a premeditated homicide.
  • Class B felonies demand a sentence of imprisonment for no more than 60 years. An example of a Class B felony is first-degree sexual assault, which ranges from rape of an incapacitated person to engage in the medical treatment of another for self-pleasure.
  • Class C and Class D felonies both include a fine not to exceed $100,000.  A Class C felony must not exceed imprisonment of 40 years, while a Class D felony must not exceed 25. Both imprisonment and the forfeiture may be included. An example is child enticement, which is luring a child for self-pleasure.
  • Class E felonies call for prison time not to exceed 15 years, or a fine not to exceed $50,000, or both. An example of a Class E felony is aggravated battery, which causes significant bodily harm to another.
  • Class F and Class G felonies include a fine not to exceed $25,000. Class F imprisonment may not exceed 12 years and 6 months, and Class G may not exceed 10 years. An individual may be penalized with both imprisonment and a fine. An example is pimping, which is in most cases, a man that uses an organized ring of prostitutes for a share of the earnings.
  • Class H and Class I felonies are monetarily penalized up to $10,000. A Class H felony prison time may not exceed 6 years, and a Class I felony may not exceed 3 years and 6 months. Both penalties of imprisonment and the forfeitures may be used in sentencing. An example is the theft of property worth $5,000 to $10,000.

The air just got a little heavier, but crime, especially committing a felony, is a serious matter. TV doesn’t show you the penalties that can be placed upon a person apart from ones included in Class A and Class B felonies (mostly because ‘milder’ crimes wouldn’t make good television). These same, crime-glamourizing spectacles fail to show the reality and long term repercussions on all parties involved. Misdemeanors and felonies are the kinds of situations that can ruin someone’s life, and not just the person being convicted. Survivors of violent crimes have to live with that life-altering trauma, and families of victims must go on without their mother, father, sister, brother, and so forth.

Moral of the story, think before you act, and keep both your future and others’ in mind. 

Contact our criminal attorneys today.