Felonies and misdemeanors are ways criminal law classifies crimes. A felony is a crime that is more serious in nature than a misdemeanor. If convicted, an individual may be sentenced from over one year to life in a state or federal prison.
A felony is the most serious category of crime in criminal law. It can be violent or non-violent in nature. Felonies are crimes that are considered harmful or dangerous to society. Crimes that are classified as felonies vary by jurisdiction. Depending on the state, the punishment for a felony can include the death penalty. Examples of felony crimes include:
- Homicide or murder;
- Rape; and/or
- Selling or trafficking controlled substances.
Crimes that are considered less serious than felonies are misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is typically punishable by less than one year in a county jail. Like felonies, misdemeanors can be violent or non-violent in nature. This type of crime usually involves minor offenses that cause minor damage.
What crimes are classified as a misdemeanor vary by jurisdiction. A misdemeanor petty crimes list can include, but is not limited to:
- Some traffic offenses, including drunk driving offenses;
- Minor offenses involving bodily harm, including assault and battery;
- Evading the police;
- Criminal mischief;
- Interference with child custody;
- Possession of a controlled substance and other drug crimes; and/or
A third category of crime, also the least serious, is the citation or infraction. An infraction is a petty offense that usually does not result in jail time. It is less serious that both felonies and misdemeanors.
What are Non-Violent Felonies?
A non-violent felony is a crime that is very serious but does not involve the use or threat of force. These felonies do not result in physical injury to another individual. Although felonies are generally violent crimes, there are several non-violent felonies.
Many non-violent crimes involve property damage, including larceny and/or theft. The seriousness of this type of felony is determined by economic or financial losses of the victim.
Many non-violent felonies are considered to be victimless crimes. This does not mean there is not an individual who suffers a loss, it is simply a classification. Certain victimless offenses are criminalized for moral and societal purposes. Non-violent felonies can include:
- White collar crime, which includes fraud, tax crimes, bribery and/or counterfeiting;
- Property crime including embezzlement, theft, receipt of stolen goods, and/or arson; and/or
- Drug and alcohol crimes including public intoxication, drug manufacturing and/or drug distribution.
Some non-violent felonies are very specific and expand on the broad categories mentioned above. They vary by type of intent, amount of damage and seriousness of the crime. They include:
- Cyber crime;
- Criminal property damage;
- Gambling while using or selling cheating devices;
- Driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated;
- Use and/or manufacturing of counterfeit gambling chips; and/or
- Escape from a government confinement such as a prison or jail.
These types of crimes are classified as non-violent because they do not result in physical injury to a victim. These types of felonies usually result in economic, financial or property loss. Should the crime committed result in physical injury or death of an individual, it becomes violent in nature and is sentenced accordingly. A crime would also not be considered non-violent if a weapon was used in its commission.
There are some crimes that do not actually result in injury to an individual that can still be classified as a violent crime. Threatening an individual with injury is one example.
What are Some Examples of Nonviolent Crimes?
Non-violent crimes, as noted above, do not involve the use of force or injury to another individual. This can include a broad range of crimes, citations and misdemeanors. The most common types of nonviolent crime committed include property crimes resulting in property damage or theft. The second most common are drug related crimes.
Common examples of serious felonies include:
- Property crimes, such as burglary and theft;
- White collar crimes such as fraud and tax crimes;
- Drug and alcohol related crimes;
- Gambling and racketeering crimes; and
The federal felonies list consists of approximately 43 levels of felony crimes instead of classes of felony crimes. Felonies under federal law are divided into 5 categories:
- D; and
A Class A federal felony is the most serious and carries punishment of life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.00. Federal crimes often include but are not limited to:
- Mail fraud;
- Aircraft hijacking;
- Credit card fraud; and
- Identity theft.
What are Some of the Consequences of Non-Violent Felony Convictions?
In most cases, non-violent crimes are not punished as harshly as violent crimes. They are generally punished by a small fine and a short jail sentence. Consequences for non-violent felonies are not as severe as those for violent felonies.
Although punishment may be less serious, they may still be considerable. Punishment will vary by jurisdiction and severity of the crime. Punishment for non-violent felonies may include:
- Lengthy prison time;
- A long period of probation or parole; and/or
- Large fines, possibly including restitution.
There are also other life-long consequences that can occur after a felony conviction, even if the felony was non-violent. These can include:
- Loss of employment;
- Loss of voting rights;
- Loss of firearms rights, either to purchase or own;
- Being unable to obtain a professional license;
- Being unable to attend school; and/of
- Being unable to rent housing.
Are there any Defenses to Non-Violent Felony Charges?
Defenses available to non-violent felony charges will vary by case. Law enforcement must conduct an investigation to determine there is probably cause for an arrest prior to pressing charges against an individual. It is possible that their findings were incorrect. Providing such a mistake is an excellent defense.
There are some common defenses for non-violent felony charges. These include, but are not limited to:
- A mistake in identification of the defendant;
- A mistake or accident;
- A lack of probable cause for the arrest;
- The defendant had permission or consent; and/or
- Fourth amendment violations such as illegal search and seizure of personal property; and/or
- Fifth amendment rights violations such as failure to provide advise a defendant of their Miranda Rights.
In many cases, a felony first offender will receive a lighter sentence than a repeat offender. First offense is a term used to describe a defendant facing charges for the first time with no prior convictions or previous criminal record. In most cases, a first time offender receives leniency from the court, depending, of course, on the circumstances of the crime and the charges the defendant is facing.
Felony charges for a minor may result in different types of punishment if they are convicted. Juvenile courts have many sentencing options, called disposition orders, that can be imposed on juvenile offenders found to be delinquent. Delinquent is a term used when the court finds the minor violated a criminal law.
Generally, disposition orders can include incarceration or a non-incarceration option, such as probation. Although the court may order incarceration, it may be different than adult incarceration which includes jail or prison. Should a juvenile be incarcerated, it may include:
- House arrest or home confinement with exceptions such as work and school;
- Placement with an individual other than the parent or guardian such as a relative or group home;
- A juvenile detention facility or juvenile hall;
- Probation following a short time in juvenile hall;
- A secured juvenile facility, usually used for longer terms of incarceration;
- Juvenile and adult jails with a blended sentence; and/or
- Adult jail.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Non-Violent Felony Charge?
Although a charge may be for a non-violent felony, it is still a felony charge which can have long-lasting and detrimental consequences if you are convicted. It is imperative to have a criminal attorney assist you throughout your case.
The difference in punishment for violent and non-violent felony convictions varies based on specific details of the case and defenses presented. A criminal attorney may use their own investigator to review your case and determine what facts can provide a strong defense.
An experienced attorney will review your case and the specific laws and penalties in your area. They will also guide you through the proceedings and represent you during any court appearances. An attorney will be able to help you provide your best defense and your best chance at a better outcome.