In criminal law, a felony is a category of crimes that are often classified as the most serious types of offenses, and they can be either violent or non-violent. Felonies are typically classified as mala in se crimes. The main characteristic of a felony is that being found guilty of a felony will result in incarceration for at least one year. Also, the imprisonment will be served in a prison facility rather than a county or local jail establishment. Criminal fines may also be imposed for felony charges, often in the amounts of thousands of dollars.

Under traditional common law, felonies were called “true crimes,” and usually included serious offenses such as: homicide, attempted murder, rape, arson, human trafficking, burglary, robbery, failing to inform a sex partner of their HIV-positive status, criminal damage to property, escaping from a prison, interfering with a guardian's custody rights including interstate interference, and assisting in a felony. Current, state and federal criminal statutes may categorize various other types of crimes as felonies. 

What Is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Felony crimes are usually classified in contrast with misdemeanor crimes. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes that usually result in a small fine and/or jail time of less than one year in a jail facility rather than a prison facility. 

Thus the question of what is a felony usually revolves around the length of imprisonment that may result from the commission of a crime. Common misdemeanors include petty theft, vandalism, trespassing, and public drunkenness.

Some misdemeanors may be elevated to the status of felony if certain “aggravating factors” are present. The classic example is with assault, which is usually a misdemeanor charge. However, if the assault is committed with the use of a deadly weapon, or against a woman, child, or police officer, the charge is said to be “elevated” to that of “felony assault.” This will result in sentences that are closer to those for felony charges.

Other examples of misdemeanors that are frequently charged as felonies include felony drunk driving/ DUI, felony domestic violence, felony custody interference, and felony embezzlement. 

What Is a Felony Expungement?

Felony expungement refers to the process of clearing or removing felony charges from one’s criminal record. This is known as expungement or record sealing, depending on the person’s age and the jurisdiction. If a felony has been expunged from one’s record, the public cannot access information regarding the felony charges. For example, a person is generally not required to disclose expunged felony charges when applying for a job with an employer.  

You should note that there is a major difference between “felony arrest” and “felony charges.” A felony arrest occurs when a suspect is arrested based the police’s suspicion that they have committed a felony. On the other hand, felony charges are only brought against the suspect after arrest and during a formal court hearing where the charges are entered into the record. Felony conviction occurs when the defendant is actually found guilty of the felony.

Thus, it is possible to subject to a felony arrest, but not receive felony charges or a felony conviction. For example, the suspect may be arrested, but information may surface indicating that the person can only be charged for a misdemeanor, not a felony. This is important, because a record of a felony arrest is generally much easier to expunge than a record of felony charges or convictions. 

Also, if a person has been subject to a felony arrest, this might be indicated in their criminal record, but the public might not able to access the small details surrounding the arrest.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Felony Charges?

Understanding how felony laws work can sometimes be difficult. If you are facing felony charges or have been subject to a felony arrest, you have the right to a competent criminal lawyer. A qualified criminal attorney will be able to explain the felony laws in your area, which might be different from region to region. Also, your attorney can help explain your options to you, such as a reduced or dropped sentence, as well as details regarding felony expungement. Refer to this list of crimes classed as felonies.