A felony is a crime that tends to be more serious in nature, and is punishable by up to life in a state or a federal prison. In criminal law, the term felony also refers to a category of the most serious offenses, and can be either violent or non-violent in nature. Depending on the jurisdiction and the crime, the death penalty may even be a possible punishment. Felony crimes generally involve more serious injuries such as physical and financial injuries. Homicide, rape, and arson are just some examples of felony crimes.
A misdemeanor could be considered petty crime, and is typically punishable by no more than one year spent in a county jail facility. Misdemeanors can also be violent or non-violent in nature. However, unlike a felony, a misdemeanor crime usually involves more minor offenses with more minor damages. Simple drug possession and disorderly conduct are a few examples of misdemeanor crimes.
Although both misdemeanors and felonies encompass violent and non-violent crimes, the severity of damages resulting from the crime is mainly what differentiates the two. Felonies tend to be more violent in nature, whereas misdemeanors are typically petty. Further, the sentencing, specifically the amount of time to be spent in imprisonment, is a large determining factor.
As previously mentioned, felonies tend to be more violent in nature; however, there are several non-violent felony crimes. Non-violent crimes do not involve the use or threat of any force, and do not result in physical injury to another person. Most non-violent crimes are those that involve some variety of property damage, such as larceny or theft. The seriousness of a non-violent crime tends to be measured by economic or financial damages, or losses to the victim.
In terms of non-violent felonies, many are considered to be “victimless” crimes. Current legislation criminalizes specific “victimless” offenses more so for moral and societal purposes. Common broad categories of non-violent felonies include:
- White-collar crimes, such as fraud, tax crimes, bribery, counterfeiting, etc.;
- Property crimes such as theft, embezzlement, receipt of stolen goods, arson, etc.; or
- Drug and alcohol crimes, such as public intoxication, illegal drug manufacturing or distribution, etc.
There are some very specific non-violent felonies, included below, which expand upon these broad categories. These vary by level of damage, type of intent, and the seriousness of the offense:
- Cyber crimes;
- Using or selling cheating devices for/while gambling;
- Criminal damage to property;
- Driving under the influence;
- The use and manufacturing of counterfeit gambling chips; or
- Escape from government confinement (escaping from prison or jail).
As you can see, these crimes are considered to be non-violent because they do not result in the physical injury of their victim. Rather, the non-violent felonies tend to result in economic, financial, or property loss. If the crime does result in the physical injury of someone, or their death, the crime becomes violent in nature and is sentenced differently. Using a weapon also raises the seriousness of the crime, although that would no longer be considered a non-violent crime.
It is important to note that some crimes that do not result in the injury of the victim can still be classified as a violent crime. Threatening injury is one such example.
In general, non-violent crimes are punished less harshly than violent crimes. Non-violent crimes tend to be punishable by a fine or a short jail sentence. The consequences for non-violent felony crimes are not as severe as violent felony crimes. However, there are still several serious punishments for those facing conviction. Depending on the state as well as the severity of the crime, these could include:
- Considerable prison time;
- Lengthy periods of probation or parole;
- Fines, potentially including restitution;
- Job loss;
- Loss of the right to vote;
- Loss of the right to own firearms;
- Loss of the right to possess a professional license;
- The inability to attend school;
- The inability to rent a home or an apartment; and
- Various other consequences
The details of each specific case will determine if there are any available defenses. Additionally, although the police may have conducted an investigation and determined that there was probable cause for an arrest, there is the possibility that their investigation, or their findings, were incorrect. Proving that some sort of mistake was made over the course of the criminal justice process during the initial trial will be absolutely crucial.
Some common defenses for non-violent felony crimes include:
- Fourth and/or Fifth Amendment violations, such as police officers unreasonably searching and seizing personal property, or law enforcement failing to inform you of your Miranda Rights;
- Lack of probable cause;
- Mistake or accident; or
- Permission or consent.
The differences in punishment for violent and non-violent felonies rely on very specific details, as well as a solid defense. Criminal defense attorneys employ their own private investigators to conduct independent and parallel investigations that may provide a strong defense.
Additionally, a knowledgeable and skilled criminal defense attorney can inform you of your specific state’s laws and penalties, guide you through proceedings, and represent you in court. It is imperative to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible if you are facing non-violent felony charges.