A felony is defined as a crime that is considered to be more serious in nature. In criminal law, a felony is a category of crimes that are often classified as the most serious type of offenses. Felonies can be either violent or nonviolent.
Each state has their own, different punishments for these crimes, but felonies are generally punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, in a federal facility as opposed to a local or county jail.
Felonies generally include such serious offenses as:
- Attempted murder;
- Human trafficking;
- A failure to inform a sexual partner of positive HIV status;
- Criminal damage to property;
- Escaping from prison;
- Interfering with a guardian’s custody rights (this includes interstate interference);
- Assisting in a felony;
- Child pornography;
- Child abuse;
- Money laundering; or
It is important to note that state and federal criminal statutes may categorize various other types of crimes as felonies.
Simply put, misdemeanors and felonies can be differentiated by their jail sentencing. A misdemeanor sentence generally carries no more than one year spent in a county or local jail.
In contrast, a felony jail sentence is generally more than one year and is to be served in a federal prison facility. Misdemeanors are considered to be “lesser” criminal offenses, such as petty theft, vandalism, trespassing, and public drunkenness.
Some misdemeanors may be elevated to felony status; this is dependent on certain “aggravating factors”. For example, assault is generally a misdemeanor charge.
However, if the assault is committed with the use of a deadly weapon, or the assault is against a woman, child, or police officer, the charge is said to be “elevated” to that of a felony assault. Obviously, this would lead to sentences that are closer to that of a felony than a misdemeanor.
Besides assault, some misdemeanors that are frequently charged as felonies include:
- Felony drunk driving;
- Felony domestic violence;
- Felony custody interference; or
- Felony embezzlement.
In criminal law, there is a concept referred to as “wobblers.” A wobbler is a crime that can be punished either as a felony or a misdemeanor, and refers to the nature of those crimes “wobbling” the line of distinction.
There are very few, specific crimes that could be considered wobblers; murder or manslaughter would never be considered. The concept could also refer to certain people, such as first time offenders or minors.
It is understood that because felonies are such serious crimes, the punishment and its factors are considered equally as seriously. Some factors that influence felony sentencing include:
- The severity of the harm done (serious injury vs. death);
- Any mitigating or aggravating circumstances related to the case, such as children or the elderly being the target of the crime;
- Attitude of the local community, as well as the court, towards this specific type of crime;
- Any prior convictions, as first time offenders may be considered wobblers;
- Whether the defendant is currently on probation or parole; or
- Whether a deadly weapon was used to commit the crime.
Additionally, you could be held civilly liable to the victim in a private lawsuit. As such, you may be required to pay for the victim’s physical injuries, discomfort (pain and suffering), out of pocket medical expenses, lost time from work, and emotional injuries.
It is possible for some misdemeanor charges to be expunged, or essentially removed from the offender’s criminal record. Thus, felony expungement refers to the process of clearing or removing felony charges from the offender’s criminal record.
If a felony has been expunged from a record, the general public cannot access any information regarding the felony charge. For example, a person will not generally be required to disclose expunged felony charges to a potential employer when applying for a job.
It is imperative to note the difference between “felony arrest” and “felony charges.” Felony arrest simply refers to when the police take a person into custody, on suspicion that they have committed a crime. Additionally, a felony arrest can take place before or after a felony charge has been issued.
Felony charges, however, refer to the beginning of formal legal proceedings against the person accused of the felony; or, it is when the district attorney brings formal accusations against the defendant before the court. Felony conviction occurs when the defendant is actually found guilty of the felony they were charged with.
Therefore, it is possible to be subject to a felony arrest but not receive felony charges, or a felony conviction. This is important because a record of a felony arrest is, generally, much easier to expunge than a record of felony charges or convictions.
Additionally, if a person has been subject to a felony arrest, this might be indicated in their criminal record, but the public might not be able to access the small details surrounding the arrest. Thus, it may not affect the person on a larger scale.
Felony law is centered around the seriousness of the crime committed. It will absolutely be in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and qualified attorney. They will help you understand the severity of your crimes and what you are being charged with, explain the felony laws in your state, and represent you in court.
Additionally, a criminal defense attorney may help you obtain a reduced or dropped sentence, as well as assist with details regarding felony expungement.