Legal Dictionary

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Degree of Crime

A degree of crime is a division or classification of an offense into several grades of guilt (e.g., first-degree robbery, second-degree murder). The degree of the crime is determined by the circumstances surrounding the crime's commission; for example, aggravating circumstance such as the extent of harm done to the victim or the use of a weapon are more likely to result in a first-degree designation for the crime. States differ in their distinctions of what constitutes first, second and third degree crimes, but the penalty for the crime generally increases as the degree of crime diminishes. For example, in California criminal law, the penalty for first-degree murder (25 years to life) is greater than the penalty for second-degree murder (15 years to life).