A petty crime is a minor legal offense. In some instances, the term is used as an alternative phrase for misdemeanor, while in other cases, petty crimes are a separate category of offenses. In either instance, a petty crime can refer to both criminal offenses and civil infractions. Examples of offenses that may be petty crimes include public drunkenness, jaywalking, and pickpocketing.
Many legal systems only recognize two types of criminal offenses. These are major offenses, which may be referred to as felonies, and minor offenses, which may be referred to as misdemeanors. Sometimes the misdemeanors in such a legal system are referred to as petty crimes.
There are other legal systems, however, that recognize a third category of offenses, petty crimes. When this is the case, a petty crime is a category that is viewed as less severe than a misdemeanor. Petty crimes in this instance are not likely to become part of a person's criminal record.
A petty crime, under any circumstances, is generally tried in one of a legal system's lower courts. Some offenses may be accompanied by the mere issuance of a citation and may not require the accused person to appear in court. Instead, the individual may be able to simply pay a fine, which acts as an admission of guilt.
In most instances, legal representation is not required and it is not sought for charges pertaining to petty crimes. Whereas a person may have the right to an attorney for more serious crimes, he is not likely to have that right with regards to a petty crime. Those who are accused of a petty crime may not have the right to a jury either. Some jurisdictions do allow such cases to be heard by either a judge or a magistrate.
There are a number of punishments that may be issued upon conviction of a petty crime. These include fines, incarceration, or community service. Petty crimes are usually characterized by maximum punishments. This means that a judge generally cannot order fines that exceed certain amounts, and the length of time that a person may be incarcerated is often limited. In some instances, a court may even be restricted from ordering any incarceration for a petty offense.
People must be aware, however, that offenses that may be considered petty in one jurisdiction may be quite serious in another. Possession of marijuana and prostitution are two good examples of this. Even within a country, such as in the United States, the law can greatly vary on these matters between jurisdictions.