Offense

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Offense is a legal term used to refer to conducts or omissions that violate and are punishable under criminal law. The terms offense, criminal offense, and crime are often used as interchangeable synonyms. The term offense may be frequently used to describe a minor crime. However, an offense is not the same as a civil wrong, a term used in the context of tort law.

Each state has the power to establish what conducts and omissions are considered offenses (or crimes) for punishing purposes. Congress may also choose what type of conducts and omissions to punish as federal offenses (or crimes).

Depending on their severity, criminal offenses belong to one of three categories:

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Infractions

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]