Sentences for Crimes in Connecticut

By: Cody N. Guarnieri, Esq.

The terminology used in the Connecticut criminal justice system can be confusing. A person may not know whether they have been "arrested" or are "charged" with a "crime" or whether that crime is a "felony" or "misdemeanor" or even why that distinction is important. This first article in a series seeks to shed some light on these commonly used terms defining the kinds of unlawful conduct that can be alleged against a person in Connecticut, as well as the possible punishments for different classifications of conduct. Moreover, this series of articles aspire to assist those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system in Connecticut to have a better understanding of the terminology, to better understand the law and procedure applied in Connecticut’s Superior Court system.

As a starting point for understanding the organization of unlawful conduct, it is important to realize that the distinction between "offenses" of different quality, including "crimes", "violations", " motor vehicle violations", and "infractions" as they are important because of the relative exposures to periods of incarceration, fines, probationary periods, and collateral consequences of conviction1 that are defined by statute for each. These are distinctions in the character of unlawful conduct are created by the legislature in order to allow the court to treat persons convicted of difference conduct in disparate ways, based on the perceived seriousness of the conduct.

First, an "offense" is any crime or violation, meaning the breach of any law of the State of Connecticut, another state, federal law, local law or local ordinance, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment, a fine or both.2 This then is the broadest term to describe unlawful conduct generally. Every crime and violation is an "offense under Connecticut law. However, an offense does not include a motor vehicle violation or an infraction.3 Thus, while offenses include crimes and violations, which we will look at more closely below, an offense for purposes of the criminal justice system in Connecticut does not include motor vehicle violations or infractions, which are in some ways removed from the criminal justice system.

Second, a "crime" is a felony or misdemeanor.4 Put conversely, the offense is not a felony or misdemeanor, as discussed below, than it is not a crime. Third, any "offense" that is not a "crime" is, therefore, a "violation."5 A "violation" is an offense for which the only penalty authorized by law is a fine.6 Also, where there is an offense that does entails only a sentence of a fine, it is a violation unless it is explicitly stated to be an infraction in the statute.7 Generally speaking, infractions and violations are addressed procedurally and substantively the same by the Judicial system in Connecticut. Moreover, violations and infractions are non-crime offenses, by definition, and do not entail the risk of a sentence of incarceration and are thus not included in the table below.

Within the category of crimes, a "felony" is an offense for which a person may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment in excess of one year.8 Felonies include six "classes" or levels, A through E and unclassified felonies.9 As will be seen below, A felonies entail the greatest exposure to criminal penalties, with the relative criminal exposure becoming less from B through E and unclassified felonies, in descending order. A "misdemeanor" then is an offense for which a person may be sentenced to a period of imprisonment of not more than one year.10 There are five "classes" of misdemeanors that are similarly descending in the degree of criminal exposure, A through D and unclassified misdemeanors.11

As mentioned above, the distinctions between different crimes and classes of felonies and misdemeanors entail greater or lesser relative exposure to criminal penalties, meaning length of incarceration and fines. The table below outlines the maximum penalties allowed by law for different classifications of crimes.

However, before reviewing the table below there are two very important concepts to be aware of. First, It must be noted that these are the statutory maximum allowable penalties, they are not a predictor of what sentence or penalties any particular person may face in any particular case or set of circumstances. The process of plea bargaining, pre-trial process and trial, as well as the factors that go into a court’s sentencing decisions, are widely varied and highly complicated. Therefore, to better understand a particular criminal defendant’s potential exposure in light of the circumstances of his or her particular case and life circumstances, it is essential to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, including by calling our criminal law department at Brown, Paindiris & Scott, LLP.

Second, while this chart gives the general principles of allowable sentences for different classifications of crimes in Connecticut, the reader is also cautioned that many criminal offenses are provided particular sentences by law. This is to say, that the statute for a certain criminal offense may include a mandatory minimum period of incarceration, meaning that the legislature has directed the judge not to sentence someone convicted of that certain offense below a certain period of incarceration. Additionally, there are different forms of sentencing enhancements or other departures from this general statutory framework that are allowed, permitted or required by law under different circumstances or conditions. Therefore, it is again advised to contact a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney to better understand any particular criminal defendant’s potential criminal exposure.

Maximum Criminal Penalties Authorized in Connecticut 12

Class

Max Incarceration

Max Fine

Max Probation

FELONY

A (Murder)

Life (min. 25 years)

$20,000

-

A

25 years (min. 10 years)

$20,000

-

B (Man. 1st)

40 years (min. 5 years)

$15,000

5 years

B

20 years (min. 1 year)

$15,000

5 years


1 The collateral consequences of conviction include a wide array of civil penalties, fines, fees, registrations, licensure issues and other rights and duties of citizens that may be affected by a criminal conviction.

2 C.G.S. § 53a-24(a)

3 C.G.S. § 53a-24(a)

4 C.G.S. § 53a-24(a)

5 C.G.S. § 53a-24(a)

6 C.G.S. § 53a-27(a).

7 C.G.S. § 53a-27(a).

8 C.G.S. § 53a-25(a)

9 C.G.S. § 53a-25(b)

10 C.G.S. § 53a-26(a)

11 C.G.S. § 53a-26(b)

12 C.G.S. §§ 53a-35a, 53a-36, 53a-41, 53a-42, 53a-29

C

10 years (min. 1 year)

$10,000

3 years

D

5 years

$5,000

3 years

E

3 years

$3,500

3 years

Unclassified

Per statute

Per statute

3 years

MISDEMEANORS

A

1 year

$2,000

2 years

B

6 months

$1,000

1 year

C

3 months

$500

1 year

D

30 days

$250

1 year

Unclassified

Per statute

Per statute

1 or 2 years depending