Lesser-Included Offense Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Lesser-Included Offense, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Lesser-Included Offense?

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History and Meaning of Lesser-Included Offense

A lesser-included offense refers to an offense that is contained within a greater crime. This term originated in common law but has now become a staple statement in judges' instructions to jurors in criminal trials. In general, it occurs when someone is charged with a more serious criminal offense, but the evidence presented at trial provides a basis for a conviction on a smaller or less severe offense than the one charged. The primary importance of lesser-included offenses is that they give the jury flexibility to decide on the charges they feel best fit the evidence presented.

Examples of Lesser-Included Offense

  1. If someone is charged with first-degree murder, but the evidence presented at trial doesn't meet the high standard of premeditation and deliberation required for this offense, the jury may convict them of second-degree murder or manslaughter instead. The latter charges are lesser-included offenses.

  2. Similarly, if someone is charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle, the jury may find evidence insufficient to establish grand theft, but support grand theft on a lesser-included offense of theft.

  3. Another example is a battery charge where the degree of physical contact constitutes a lesser-included offense of assault.

Legal Terms Similar to Lesser-Included Offense

  1. Included offense - an offense that is established when the elements essential to it are also essential to another crime charged, but that offense involves certain distinctive elements that make it separate from the greater offense.

  2. Contiguous offenses - a term used to describe offenses that are related to each other by both location and time such that separate indictments wouldn't be necessary to try these offenses.

  3. Elements of an offense - facts that the prosecution must prove to establish each of the essential elements of a crime.