CRIMINAL LAW 1.3 CLASSIFICATION OF OFFENCES AND THE LEGAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CLASSIFICATION
An offence can be classified in a number of ways may be for convenience or academic purposes. In practice, there exists overlap between the various classifications.
An offence has been defined by Section 2 of the Criminal Code.
As an act or an omission which renders the person doing the act or making the omission liable to punishment under the code or any other Act or Law.
Section 3 goes further to classify the offences into felonies, misdemeanor and simple offences. In the US, they are classified as felonies, misdemeanor and infractions.
- Section 3 of the Criminal Code classifies an offence into; Felony, misdemeanor and simple offences.
- Indictable and non-indictable.
- Common-law/ or statutory offences. Section 36, Aoko V
- Offences tried summarily or by information.
- Sexual violent or fraudulent offences.
- Mala in se and mala prohibita. (based on the wickedness involved. For example, rape and failure to insure one’s motor-vehicle)
- FELONY, MISDEMEANOR AND SIMPLE OFFENCES
Section 3 of the Criminal Code and Section 5 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, classifies offences as, felony, misdemeanor and simple offences.
- A felony is an offence punishable with three years or more till death. At common-law, it entailed forfeiture of life, limb and chattel.
- A misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment for 6 months up to 3 years.
- Simple offences are others apart from felonies and misdemeanor and are usually punishable by a mere fine, caution, and very rarely, imprisonment not exceeding 6 months.
- INDICTABLE AND NON INDICTABLE
- An indictable offence is one that can merit punishment exceeding 2 years and a fine exceeding #400 and cannot be punished on summary conviction.
Please read the following cases for further explanations. R V Eze.1959 19 nlr at 110. Ejor V I.G.P 1963 all nlr at 250, Onymachi V Okeugo.
- A non-indictable offence is one which on conviction, may be punishable by a term not exceeding 2 years.
Please note that a summary trial is that which is devoid of technicalities and bureaucracy of regular courts of record, and is usually tried by the magistrate.
THE LEGAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CLASSIFICATION.
The classification of offences have far reaching effects both on substantive and procedural law. Some areas include:
- JURISDICTION: The gravity of offence and penalty prescribed is used in determining jurisdiction of the court.
- ARREST: A private citizen and a police can arrest a suspected felon on reasonable apprehension without a warrant. However, a person committing a misdemeanor cannot be arrested except it is being committed at night depending on the circumstances. Also, Reasonable force can be used in effecting a lawful arrest or preventing the escape of a felon. See Section 32 of the Criminal Code, Section 33 of the 1999 constitution. Section 12 Criminal Procedure Act.
- BAIL: It is easier to obtain bail for simple offences and misdemeanor and none indictable offences than it is to obtain bail for a felony or indictable offence. As in granting bail, cognizance is usually taken, of the gravity of offence committed, likelihood of retrieval and other considerations.
- COMPOUNDING AND NEGLECT: Compounding (agreement not to prosecute a felony for a consideration) and neglect to prevent the commission of a felony does not extend to misdemeanor and simple offences. Section 515 and 127 Criminal Code and Section 98 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.
- INCHOATE OFFENCES: Punishment for inchoate (attempts, conspiracies and accessory after the fact) offences are usually divided by two, ie “attempted” this does not however extend to death penalties.
- THE RULE IN SMITH V SELWYN: though obsolete in England, states that where the offence involves a felony and a tort, the felonious aspect has to be concluded before the tortious aspect can commence. The rationale behind this being that an offender should first be brought to justice by public law before the individual can proceed with his claim.