Felony Definition

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 What is the Definition of a Felony?

The term “felony” refers to a serious crime for which the defendant can be sentenced to more than one year in prison. Felonies are considered the most serious kind of criminal offense a person can commit. When serving a sentence for a felony, an offender is typically incarcerated in a state or federal prison rather than a local or county jail.

All other crimes are usually classified as either misdemeanor (i.e., which results in less than a year of imprisonment) or a citation or infractions (i.e., a warning or a fine). (Note: some states, such as New Jersey and Maine, do not use the term “felony.”) Crimes classified as felonies tend to involve physical violence or some type of action that can cause psychological harm. Felony crimes include manslaughter or murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and more.

Felonies may be classified by degrees depending on the statutes of each state. For instance, most states classify the felony of first-degree murder as either a Class A or Class 1 felony. This means that if convicted, the defendant can receive the maximum amount of punishment that a person can be sentenced to for committing a felony.

Another way to classify felonies is by the nature of the crime. For example, a felony that involves serious bodily injury to another person is called a violent felony. In contrast, a felony that doesn’t involve force or threat or force, such as the theft of valuable property, is labeled a non-violent felony. Felonies can be violent or non-violent, but they are more often violent.

Other ways that felony offenses may be divided is by the type of crime, including:

  • Property crimes,
  • Sex crimes,
  • Drug offenses
  • White-collar crimes,
  • Blue-collar crimes.

One last thing to know about felony offenses is that they often refer to crimes that are deemed harmful or dangerous to society at large, such as human trafficking or distributing drugs.

What Are Some Common Examples of Felony Charges?

As discussed above, the laws for felony offenses differ depending on the state. Thus, the definition of a felony can often vary according to the rules set out in a specific jurisdiction.

There are some felonies, however, that the majority of states generally recognize under their felony classifications. These include the following crimes:

  • Homicide (both first-degree and second-degree.) Homicide is the unlawful killing of another human being. A homicide can be intentional (murder) or unintentional (manslaughter).
  • Stalking is making a credible threat to another individual. In addition to threatening the victim, the person repeatedly communicates with the victim, follows them around, or communicates with their family members
  • Sexual assault crimes such as rape and sexual abuse
  • Interstate interference with custody of a child
  • Using a device to cheat at gambling
  • Arson is the willful and malicious burning or charring of property or a structure.
  • Certain forms of domestic violence
  • Grand theft crimes (such as grand theft auto). Grand theft is usually defined as theft that is worth over a certain amount, anywhere from $500-$1,000, depending on the state.
  • Burglary. This is when someone breaks into a house or building to commit a crime (usually theft)
  • Serious cases of assault and battery (e.g., battery with the intent to commit mayhem);
  • Destruction of property;
  • Cheating at gambling in general or teaching others how to cheat at it
  • Fraud (a scheme to cheat or deceive another individual or entity to obtain a financial gain)
  • Human trafficking. Human trafficking involves using force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor from another person. This includes non-consensual commercial sex acts. Human trafficking is a significant example of modern-day slavery.
  • Kidnapping
  • Possession of a firearm by a felon and other illegal weapons charges
  • Involuntary servitude (slavery)
  • Compelling a person to work as a prostitute
  • Robbery is defined as taking property from another person by using force, intimidation, or threat of force. If a robbery is committed with the use of a firearm or other deadly weapon, then it may be considered armed robbery and will often result in a harsher penalty for the defendant.
  • Certain types of theft (e.g., embezzlement or receipt of stolen property)
  • Drunk driving that results in death or serious bodily injury to another person
  • Selling, trafficking, or distributing drugs.

In addition, some misdemeanor charges can be changed to felony status if certain factors are present when the crime is committed. For example, misdemeanor assault becomes a felony if it is committed against a police officer, child, or pregnant person or if there is use of a deadly weapon.

Can Sentences for Felonies Be Reduced?

Although rare and difficult, criminal sentences for felony charges can sometimes be reduced. This can happen when the person is a first-time offender (i.e., has never been convicted of a felony before) and if the judge determines that alternative sentencing is an option.

For example, a judge may reduce the sentence for theft that did not result in harm to another person, but a judge most likely will not reduce a sentence for a case in which there is clear evidence that the defendant committed and was convicted of first-degree murder.

If a judge does decide that alternative sentencing (alternative to incarceration) is an option, the defendant may receive a shorter sentence or may be able to serve their sentence under house arrest. Another possibility would be to be sentenced to participate in many hours of community service.

A sentence may also be reduced if a criminal defense applies to the crime. For instance, if the defendant can show that the victim severely provoked them, the charges could be reduced from murder or attempted murder to voluntary manslaughter.

An individual charged with committing a felony offense should speak with a criminal defense attorney to see what defenses are available to the specific criminal charge that applies to their case.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Felony Charges?

If you are facing charges involving a felony offense, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

If convicted, you may face harsh penalties, including incarceration. Also, felonies generally remain on your criminal record for the rest of your life. Having a criminal record can impact many areas of your life, including the ability to get a job, being able to gain custody of your children after the punishment is completed, and your ability to rent an apartment or house; it can affect your right to vote in elections.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can give legal advice about the criminal laws in your state that specifically apply to your matter. They will be able to help you prepare your case, develop any defenses available for your case, and provide representation on your behalf in court. They can advocate on your behalf to have an alternative sentencing method applied so that you can avoid being locked up.

The vast majority of criminal cases do not go to court but rather are pled out. Thus, perhaps the most important way a criminal defense lawyer can help you is to negotiate with the prosecution concerning what crime you will end up being charged with and what punishments make sense for you and the state.


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