Lesser included offense

In criminal law, a lesser included offense is a crime for which all of the elements necessary to impose liability are also elements found in a more serious crime. It is also used in non-criminal violations of law, such as certain classes of traffic offenses.

For example, the common law crime of larceny requires the taking and carrying away of tangible property from another person, with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of that property. Robbery, under the common law, requires all of the same elements and also the use of force or intimidation to accomplish the taking. Therefore, larceny is a lesser included offense in the offense of robbery, as every robbery includes a larcenous act as part of the crime. Assault is also a lesser included offense of robbery, just as false imprisonment is usually a lesser included offense of kidnapping. However, an offense will not be a lesser included offense if it carries a maximum penalty greater than that carried by the charged offense.

In the case of traffic offenses, serious misconduct while operating a motor vehicle can result in a charge of reckless driving, which can be punishable (as a misdemeanor) by imprisonment, a fine, or both. However, if the person charged proves to the court that the actions were not serious enough to constitute recklessness, the offense may qualify as being the lesser-included offense of improper driving, which is not a criminal offense and is punishable by only a fine. In others the charge may be substituted with one of driving without due care and attention or similar, which may be accepted in a plea bargain or may likewise be found by the court.