A felony is typically defined as any criminal offense that results in a prison sentence of one year or greater. All other crimes are usually classified as either misdemeanors (i.e., which result in less than a year of imprisonment), or a citation and/or infraction (i.e., which result in a warning or a fine). Thus, felonies are considered to be the most serious kind of criminal offense that a person can commit.
Felonies may be classified by degrees depending on the statute 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.
Additionally, felonies may also be categorized 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 involves a victimless crime, such as theft of extremely valuable property, is labeled a non-violent felony.
While violent and non-violent serious crimes are both included under felony charges, it is more often the case that the felony involved violence.
Other ways that felony offenses may be divided is by the type of crime, including:
- Property crimes;
- Sex crimes;
- Drug offenses;
- White collar crimes; and
- Blue-collar crimes.
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 murder);
- Sexual assault crimes;
- Interstate interference with custody of a child;
- Using a device to cheat at gambling;
- Certain forms of domestic violence;
- Grand theft crimes (such as, grand theft auto);
- 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;
- Human trafficking;
- Possession of a firearm and other illegal weapons;
- Involuntary servitude;
- Compelling a person to work as a prostitute;
- Certain levels of theft (e.g., embezzlement or receipt of stolen property);
- Drunk driving that results in death or serious bodily injury to another person; and
- Selling, trafficking, or distributing drugs.
Again, the above list does not provide the full extent of crimes that may be considered a felony since each state has its own laws regarding felony classifications.
In addition, some misdemeanor charges can be changed to felony status if there are certain factors present when the crime is committed, such as assaulting a police officer, child, or pregnant person, or if there was use of a deadly weapon in order to carry out the misdemeanor offense.
Can Sentences for Felonies Be Reduced?
Although it is extremely rare and very difficult to do, 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 sentencing for stealing valuable property 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 is an option, the defendant may receive a shorter sentence or may be able to request different punishments, such as serving their sentence under house arrest or participating in a large number of hours of community service.
A sentence may also be reduced if some sort of criminal defense applies to the crime. For instance, if the defendant can show that the victim adequately provoked them to the point where the defendant either committed murder or attempted murder, then the charges could potentially get reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Again, these options may not be available for every felony offense or in a particular state. It can also depend on the circumstances and individual facts involved in each case.
Thus, an individual who is charged with committing a felony offense should speak with a criminal defense attorney to see if there are additional defenses to use that are applicable to their case.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Felony Charges?
If you are facing charges involving a felony offense, then you should strongly consider contacting a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
If convicted, not only can you face harsh penalties, but also felonies often 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, and in some cases, it can affect your right to vote in elections.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can give further legal advice about the criminal laws in your state that specifically apply to your matter, will be able to help you to prepare your case, and can provide representation on your behalf in court.
Additionally, a lawyer will be able to determine if there are any defenses available for your case, and can check if there are other options for alternative sentencing methods, so that you can possibly either get your sentence reduced or avoid having to go to prison altogether.