A Guide to What Crimes Can Get You Incarcerated in the United States

A Guide to What Crimes Can Get You Incarcerated in the United States

There are over 2 million people incarcerated in the USA, making it home to the highest jail and prison population in the world. Crimes are sentenced as either felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies will almost always result in incarceration, whereas misdemeanors typically only ever result in a maximum of one year of jail time.

In this guide, we will take a look at what crimes are likely to result in you going to prison and the length of the sentence you can expect to serve with each one. 

Many sentences vary depending on the state. The following is a rough guide based on the most common sentences attached to each crime. 

Capital Felonies

Capital felonies are the most severe types of crimes and as a result, they receive the harshest sentencing. Capital felonies either receive life imprisonment or a death sentence. Examples of capital felonies include:

  • Espionage
  • Death resulting from aircraft hijacking
  • Large-scale drug trafficking
  • Treason
  • Aggravated sexual assault 
  • Attempted murder of a juror, witness, or court officer
  • Murder of a child of a certain age (depending on the state)
  • Murder during a kidnapping
  • Murder for hire
  • Murder during a prison escape
  • Genocide
  • Murder resulting from a drug-related drive-by shooting

Often, the difference between a crime being judged as a capital felony or a class A felony depends on the state. 

Class A Felonies

Class A felonies are also known as level one felonies. They are the most severe types of crimes that fall short of receiving the death sentence. However, several class A felonies can be escalated to the death sentence depending on whether or not the state allows the death penalty, and the circumstances surrounding the crime.

Some of the most common Class A felonies include:

  • Voluntary manslaughter or murder
  • Aggravated sexual assault (1st degree)
  • Sexual assault of a child
  • Kidnapping
  • Drug trafficking
  • Armed robbery
  • Arson
  • Employing a minor in an obscene performance

The penalties for a Class A felony will vary by state and will depend on the severity and circumstances of the crime. However, all Class A felonies are usually met with a minimum of 10 years in prison. Prison time for Class A felonies can reach up to 60 years, or life imprisonment.    

Class B Felonies

Class B felonies are the next most severe class of crimes. There is a blurred line between them and Class A felonies. Class B felonies can sometimes be judged as Class A felonies or Class C felonies depending on the state.

While Class B felonies are viewed as being less severe than Class A felonies they still carry significant jail time. Some of the most common Class B felonies include:

  • First-degree reckless homicide
  • Sexual assault
  • Kidnapping in the 2nd degree
  • Cocaine or heroin possession
  • Attempt to commit a class A felony such as murder
  • Computer crime related to terrorism
  • Importing or possessing child pornography
  • Robbery
  • Burglary

Sentences for Class B felonies are usually capped at 25 years. In some states, incarceration might be up to 60 years. Longer sentences are often given for aggravated circumstances such as the use of a deadly woman, a sexual offense involving a child, or a hate crime.       

Class C Felonies

Class C felonies sit somewhere between the most serious violent crimes and the least serious non-violent crimes. They are the greyest area of types of crimes, and whether or not a crime is judged as a Class C felony depends on the state.

Some of the most common Class C felonies include:

  • Criminal solicitation
  • Gang assault
  • Child custody interference
  • Criminal possession of marijuana
  • Negligent or vehicular homicide
  • Bribery
  • Strangulation
  • Criminal use or sale of a firearm

In some states, non-violent Class C felonies don't receive jail time and are often punished with hefty fines up to $50,000. In the majority of states, Class C felonies have a maximum prison sentence of ten years.     

Class D Felonies

Not all states punish crimes as Class D felonies. They tend to consider them as misdemeanors or Class C felonies. Class D felonies are the least serious of all felony convictions. Some common examples of Class D felonies include:

  • Illegal sale of a handgun to a person under 21
  • Possession of an assault weapon
  • 2nd-degree assault with a firearm
  • Assault of larceny of a vulnerable person
  • Criminal use of a firearm
  • Criminal possession of a revolver or pistol
  • Attempting to elude police capture

Most states will sentence Class D felonies to a maximum of five years in prison, but some states might sentence up to 10 years jail time. Previous criminal charges and the circumstances of the crime might make for a longer sentence.

Misdemeanors and Unclassified Crimes

Most misdemeanors and unclassified crimes carry a maximum sentence of one year unless they are repeat offenses. Misdemeanors are often accompanied by a fine that can reach up to a maximum of $100,000.

The only unclassified crimes that carry heavier sentences are drug offenses involving the manufacture or sale of certain narcotics. These types of crimes can be punishable with a sentence of up to 60 years depending on the severity of the crime committed.


Infractions are the least severe of criminal offenses. They are rarely punished with incarceration and there's usually no need to be awaiting trial. Most infractions will just receive a fine, but in certain cases, especially if they are repeat offenses, the maximum jail time you can serve for an infraction is 5 days. 

Understanding What Crimes Can Get You Incarcerated

Understanding what crimes might get you incarcerated and for how long can be an important resource for families and friends of individuals who are being prosecuted for a crime. Only in extreme cases do crimes receive the maximum sentence, but it is best to be prepared for the worst.

As stated, sentencing not only varies from crime to crime but also depends on the state as well. This guide is intended to be used as an outline and for specifics regarding sentencing it is important to check with the appropriate state.  

If you have any further questions regarding the information in this article then feel free to contact us at Jail Exchange