Felony crime classifications give judges a framework of sentencing guidelines. They consult this structure when determining punishment for a felony offender. 

Federal and state-by-state guidelines differ greatly in structure. There are many differences, but all governing bodies base their classes on the crime committed. 

Federal crimes 

The United States Sentencing Commission is an independent group within the judicial arm of the federal government. The USSC creates and amends the federal sentencing guidelines. It also serves as an advisor for other parts of the government that deal with crimes, sentencing and criminal policies. 

The USSC’s sentencing table uses a grid structure based on offense level and previous criminal history. Relatively minor offenses by someone with little or no prior misconduct will receive fewer months in prison. As the severity of the crime and the offender’s criminal history points increase, the sentence subsequently lengthens. 

State by state classification 

Classifications for felony crimes vary from state to state. Kansas is the only state to use a grid arrangement like that of the federal government. Others opt for a less complicated system using letters or numbers or both. A handful of states sentence by degree level and the rest classify the felony by the crime committed. 

North Carolina’s state government uses a combination of letters and numbers. Felonies fall in a range through letters A to I, with Class B felonies further separated into subcategories 1 and 2. Class A felonies are the most severe offenses, like first-degree murder, and carry the strictest penalties. On the other end, Class I felonies include many nonviolent crimes, like credit card forgery and larceny.