Each state has its own criminal justice system – Connecticut is no different. The state’s legislative body passes laws that regulate conduct and specifies the penalties that a judge can – or must – impose when an individual violates or breaks a law. This set of laws is called a penal code.
Most states, including Connecticut, sort crimes into the following three categories:
- Infractions: Offenses that usually aren’t very serious and involve low-level misconduct, such as traffic violations. Punishment typically involves a fine or some other minor penalty.
- Misdemeanors: These crimes are usually considered minor, but that’s a broad statement because they can sometimes be serious – and come with severe penalties. Generally speaking, they are more serious than infractions and less serious than felonies. Punishment usually involves less than a year in prison, probation, or community service. Or, a combination of those penalties.
- Felonies: These are the most serious crimes as determined by law. Prison sentences range from at least a year in prison up to life in prison. Up until recently, it was possible to get the death penalty here, but in 2012 Connecticut abolished that punishment, and in 2015, the state supreme court upheld that law. Prisoners on death row are now eligible to reduce their sentences to life in prison without parole.
Connecticut’s General Assembly, like most state legislatures, updates its penal code from time-time. Between 1995 and 2015, nearly 50 crimes were elevated from misdemeanors to felonies. From the above, you probably already have some idea of why that’s important, but here we’re going to dive deeper into the specifics, including which crimes and why it happened. First, though, let’s get a bit more granular on what the different categories mean and how they’re broken down even further in our code.
What the Various Categories of Crimes Mean in Connecticut
Connecticut’s legislative body, the General Assembly, under the Connecticut Penal Code, currently expands its misdemeanors and felonies into subclasses as follows.
- Class A: The most serious class. Crimes include prostitution and money laundering. Violators could receive up to one year in prison and fines up to $2000.
- Class B: Still serious, but not as bad as class A. Crimes include misuse of 911 services and breach of the peace. Violators could receive up to six months in prison and fines up to $1000.
- Class C: Not as serious as Class B. Crimes include disorderly conduct and harassment. Sentences include up to three months in prison and fines up to $500.
- Class D: The least serious misdemeanors. Sentences include up to thirty days in prison and fines up to $250.
- Class A: As with misdemeanors, the most serious class. Crimes include murder and assault of a minor. Prison sentences range from 10 years to life and fines can go as high as $20,000.
- Class B: Not quite as serious as a class A Crimes include first-degree manslaughter and assaulting a corrections officer. Sentences include up to 40 years in prison and fines up to $20,000.
- Class C: Not quite as serious as class B. Crimes include burglary and robbery. Sentences include up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Class D: The least serious felonies. Prison sentences range from one to five years and fines can go as high as $5000.
How and Why Connecticut Elevates Misdemeanors to Felonies
Sometimes legislators update laws to reflect public opinion and show that they are tough-minded about crime. They also update laws to reflect changing practices and society’s viewpoints.
Here are some of the ways the General Assembly has increased misdemeanors to felonies:
- They changed the penalty of a specific act, elevating it from a misdemeanor to a felony. For example, the General Assembly identified certain professionals and decided to consider an assault against them – which was previously a Class A Misdemeanor – as one intended to keep them from performing their work. As such, they elevated the act to a Class C Felony. Such workers included emergency medical personnel and public transit workers.
- They revised the definition of the criminal conduct, and either elevated it to a felony or created a separate crime. For example, before 2002, all fourth-degree sexual assaults – which were previously defined as sexual conduct with a non-consensual person – were Class A misdemeanors. In 2002, the General Assembly added non-consensual assault for victims under 16 years of age and added a Class D felony sentence, thereby creating a separate crime.
- They removed certain parts of a misdemeanor’s law and elevated only that section into a separate felony. Before 1997, if an individual impersonated a police officer, their crime was part of a misdemeanor that included impersonating officials. That year, legislators created a separate felony for impersonating a police officer. The prior misdemeanor remained.
- They have added factors to the previously listed conduct. In 2016, the General Assembly revised the penalties for drivers who leave the scene of an accident. Before 2016, leaving the scene of an accident was considered a Class A Misdemeanor. After that year, if that individual caused any type of physical injury, even a minor injury, it was elevated to a Class D felony.
These laws tend to be broad and open-ended. How they are applied is often up to the interpreter’s discretion (i.e. police, district attorney). This is just one of the reasons it is so important to have a knowledgeable legal professional on your side. They may be able to show that your actions did not rise to the level of a felony and get your charges reduced – or even dismissed altogether.
About the Author
Douglas D. Rudolph practices criminal defense law with two guiding principles in mind: that you are someone who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that you are innocent until proven guilty. Those are beliefs that have served him well so far in New Haven and across Connecticut, where he has built a reputation as someone who truly cares about his clients and will fight aggressively for them. His work has earned him a number of prestigious awards, including landing on The National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 list two years in a row, and being named to the Top 10 Under 40 by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys in 2018.