What is Petty Crime?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye
Jail time may be served to those who commit a petty crime.
Jail time may be served to those who commit a petty crime.

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.

Public drunkenness may be considered a petty crime.
Public drunkenness may be considered a petty crime.

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.

Jaywalking is considered a petty crime.
Jaywalking is considered a petty crime.

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.

For petty crimes the length of time a person can spend in jail is subject to limitations.
For petty crimes the length of time a person can spend in jail is subject to limitations.

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.

Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor -- or petty crime -- in some places and a felony in others.
Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor -- or petty crime -- in some places and a felony in others.

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.

Petty Crimes Severity

Petry crimes and misdemeanors are sometimes lumped into the same category. However, they may also be in two different types depending on the state and jurisdiction. Whether a petty crime is classified as a misdemeanor or is in its own category, it can be a civil infraction or criminal offense.

In the United States, sentences for people who are convicted of petty crimes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another.
In the United States, sentences for people who are convicted of petty crimes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another.

Petty crimes are considered lower-level crimes, and while they are still illegal, the lower courts generally handle the cases. Punishment is less severe than more significant crimes and generally does not involve a lawyer, a jury, or jail time. Punitive reparations after a petty conviction are typically in the form of a fine, probation, or community service rather than lengthy incarceration sentences.

Petty Crimes List 

Keep in mind that some crimes may be classified as strictly petty crimes, as misdemeanors, or even as felonies, depending on where the crime is committed. There is little state-to-state uniformity in laws.

Traffic and Moving Violations 

Traffic and moving violations include those petty crimes that involve vehicles or the rules of the road. Motor vehicle violations account for many citations and fines each year in the United States.

  • Traffic violations 
  • Jaywalking 
  • Driving under the influence 

Harassment Not Involving Sexual Intent 

Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.
Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.

Harassment is defined as any unwanted or uninvited behavior by another party with the intent to make the other person feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. Sexual harassment is not included in this selection of crimes because anything with sexual intent is generally classified as a higher crime.

  • Stalking 
  • Verbal assault 
  • Cyberbullying 

Assault of the Body 

Assault of the body is a petty crime that causes injury or damage to the person who is being assaulted. This kind of assault includes superficial wounds easily repaired without major surgery, lengthy hospital stays, or long-term brain damage.

  • Unwanted touching 
  • Simple assault and battery with no deadly weapon 
  • Assault with stun gun or taser 

Theft or Removal of Property

Petty theft is taking property or goods that do not belong to you amounting to below $1000. The number cutoff ranges wildly; it can be anywhere from $915 to $999 before being charged as a higher crime.

  • Removing a shopping cart 
  • Stolen property 
  • Shoplifting 

Disorderly Conduct in Public Areas

Disorderly conduct is considered a petty crime because it is a civil infraction. For the most part, disorderly conduct is based on only the norms that people in a particular area have agreed upon as acceptable. Prostitution is an example of this kind of crossover. In Nevada, prostitution is legal, whereas, in Kentucky, it is not.

  • Prostitution 
  • Public intoxication 
  • Infectious diseases exposure 

Unlawful Possession of Illegal Materials

Much like the petty crimes of disorderly conduct, unlawful possession can be tricky. Some states have legalized recreational marijuana. Other states have not legalized any recreational use of drugs. Possession is considered a petty crime provided there is no evidence that the party intends to sell. Paraphernalia can also add additional minor criminal charges.

  • Possession of small amounts of drugs or personal use 
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia 
  • Possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use 

Disturbing the Peace in Public Areas

Defacing property with graffiti can be challenging to clean. Noise ordinances keep people safe and secure. Disturbing people’s peace can come at a high cost, even though it is a petty crime.

  • Defacement of property
  • Noise ordinance violation 
  • Trespassing on property

Violating a Legal Order 

Legal orders are put in place to protect victims and the public. If you violate or help someone else violate a lawful order, you can commit a petty crime. In some cases, aiding a criminal is a felony, such as helping a person on probation across state lines.

  • Protective order 
  • Custody order 
  • Probation order 

Petty Crimes Number 

Another significant differentiation between petty crimes and misdemeanors or even felonies is the number of times the crime has been committed. In many cases, the punishment is very lenient the first time a person commits a petty offense. Fines are typically the punishment for first-time offenders. The petty crimes may not even be listed on the offender’s formal record or may fall off after three to five years.

Alternately, if a person commits the same crime repeatedly, the severity of the offense increases. The crime may start as petty but then escalate to a higher class of misdemeanor. After a time, if the crime continues to be committed, it may advance to a felony involving more extended incarceration and more considerable fines implemented as punishment.

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Discussion Comments

anon243344

I got caught shop lifting at walmart, and the police officer said it was a petty crime, and that I will have a criminal record? Is that true? Do I have a criminal record now? If so, how and when can I get my criminal record removed?

mutsy

A recent book called Petty Crimes by Gary Soto

talks about a Mexican family in which one member has developed a petty crime habit and is coming home with expensive merchandise even though the family is struggling financially.

comfyshoes

Crimes like felony drunk driving, felony DWI, misdemeanor DUI, and felony DUI are serious offenses but some may classify them as petty crimes when compared to murder or armed robbery.

For me, I would classify any DUI or DWI as a serious offense because the person could have harmed another person or even killed them. Losing driving privileges is not enough of a punishment for these offenses.

Sunny27

Petty crimes in general are criminal offenses that result in a fine or a misdemeanor charge. Crimes like failure to pay traffic tickets and minor shop lifting where the stolen item is less than $50 are considered petty crimes.

This list of petty crimes involve paying a fine and possible community service. Rarely does the defendant in these cases get sent to prison.

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    • Jail time may be served to those who commit a petty crime.
      By: NovoPicsDE
      Jail time may be served to those who commit a petty crime.
    • Public drunkenness may be considered a petty crime.
      By: corepics
      Public drunkenness may be considered a petty crime.
    • Jaywalking is considered a petty crime.
      By: Chris Boswell
      Jaywalking is considered a petty crime.
    • For petty crimes the length of time a person can spend in jail is subject to limitations.
      By: andreykr
      For petty crimes the length of time a person can spend in jail is subject to limitations.
    • Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor -- or petty crime -- in some places and a felony in others.
      By: Borrelia
      Prostitution is considered a misdemeanor -- or petty crime -- in some places and a felony in others.
    • In the United States, sentences for people who are convicted of petty crimes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another.
      By: Sascha Burkard
      In the United States, sentences for people who are convicted of petty crimes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another.
    • Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.
      By: Gina Sanders
      Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.