Categories of Crime: At common law, crime is either classified as treason, felony or misdemeanor. Originally, the distinction between felony and misdemeanor was a distinction between serious and minor offences. As time went on, all distinction between felony and misdemeanor were abolished and all offences were conveniently called “offences”.
The criminal law Act 1967, made another distinction between serious and minor offences which it called “arrest able” and “non-arrest able” offences. Arrest able offence is any offence for which the sentence is fixed by law or for which a person not previously convicted may under or by virtue of any enactment be sentenced for a term of five years or might be so sentenced but for the restrictions imposed by S. 33 of the magistrates’ courts Act 1980 and to attempt to commit any such offence.
For procedural purposes crimes were classified as “indictable” and “summary” offences. Summary offences are offences which may be tried by courts having summary jurisdiction and the trial is conducted by magistrates without a Jury. A summary offence on the other hand is an offence which if committed by an adult, is triable only summarily.
This classification also reflects a distinction between minor and serious offences. A committee was later raised and it recommended a threefold classification of offences which are:
a) Offences triable only on indictment
b)Offences triable only summarily; and
c) Offences triable either way.
Under the Nigeria legal system criminal offences are classified under the criminal code operational in southern Nigeria in terms of their gravities. Their classification includes felony, misdemeanor and simple offences.
According to section 3 of the criminal code of southern Nigeria, a felony is an offence which is declared by law to be a felony. It is a crime, which on conviction the person found guilty may be punished without prove of previous conviction with death or by imprisonment for three years or more. In the words of BRETT, F.J.
“Where one knows that another has a settled intention to commit felony and the former having it in his power to stop the commission of such felony and did not, shall be liable to conviction.”
Sections 410-417 of the code also stipulates crimes which constitute felony.
MISDEMEANOR IN Crime
A misdemeanor is an offence, which on conviction; a person may be punished by imprisonment for not less than six months but not more than three years.
A simple offence is an offence which is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor. It is just any category of offence which on conviction a person cannot be sent to terms of imprisonment up to six months.
Under the penal code, which is operational in the Northern Nigeria, indictable offences are called compoundable offences. An indictable offences is an offence which on conviction may be punished with a term of imprisonment exceeding two years; or on conviction may be punished by imposition of a fine exceeding N400; and is not declared by the written law creating it to be punishable on summary conviction. For procedural purposes, offences are classified into indictable offences. In my opinion, this classification is derived from the word “indictment”. Indictment means a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. In the case of ADAMU V. GWA DABAWA, it was held that a person who has not committed a crime is not indicted.
A non-indictable offence is an offence, which on conviction may be punished with a term of imprisonment of up to two years, or could be punished by imposition of fine up to N400. Generally, all offences declared by written law to be punishable on summary conviction are regarded as non-indictable offences. For instance, the offence of contempt of court.
Under the penal code, offences can further be divided into offences relating to religion (chapter XVI), offences relating to ordeal, witchcraft and Juju (chapter XVII), offences affecting the human body (chapter XVII), offences against property (Chapter XIX) and offences relating to marriage and incest (Chapter XXII).