In general, a felony is defined as a category of crimes that are considered to be a more serious type of offense. They rank higher in severity than a misdemeanor or citation, and usually involve a punishment for imprisonment that is greater than one year.
The kind of punishment received, however, will vary by state because each state has their own method of punishment for felonies. Additionally, both state and federal statutes categorize different types of crimes as felonies.
Although felonies can be classified as either violent or nonviolent, they typically involve more violent crimes.
A violent felony is one that involves the use of threat or force against another person. This force can result in injury or even death. They are classified as mala in se crimes (i.e., the crime is inherently wrong itself). This means that they violate the moral, public, or natural principles of a society. Thus, a defendant convicted of a violent felony will typically receive a more serious sentence.
Common examples of malum in se crimes include:
- Vandalism; and
- Drunk driving.
Given their nature, violent felonies are also prosecuted more aggressively than nonviolent crimes. Aside from receiving longer prison sentences, a person convicted of a violent felony crime can also expect to receive steep penalties and in some states, the death penalty. As mentioned, the type of punishments available will depend on the jurisdiction.
Additionally, other aggravating factors can increase any potential penalties. If an aggravating factor is present, it can make the crime itself worse. Some examples include whether a weapon was used, whether the victim was a police officer or young child, and if the defendant has a prior criminal record.
Once a defendant is convicted of a violent felony, they may lose a number of rights that can produce far-reaching consequences. These will remain on their record even after they have satisfied their sentences. As with state statutes and punishments, the set of rights that are taken away will also depend on the jurisdiction.
The main difference between violent and nonviolent felonies is in their titles, namely, that one is for violent crimes and the other is for nonviolent offenses.
Nonviolent felonies do not involve the use or threat of any force, which means that they do not usually result in physical injury to another individual. In other words, they can often be considered “victimless crimes.”
Most nonviolent crimes involve some variety of property damage, such as larceny or theft. Thus, the seriousness of a nonviolent crime tends to be measured by economic or financial damages, or losses to the victim. Some examples include:
- Racketeering (i.e., operation of an illegal business or organized crime);
- Cybercrimes (including hacking, internet fraud, and identity theft);
- White-collar crimes (e.g., fraud, tax crimes, bribery, counterfeiting, etc.); and
- Criminal damage to property (e.g., vandalism).
Also, since the degree of harm is less than that of a violent felony, nonviolent offenses are often treated with more leniency. Regardless, they are still punishable by up to several years in state or federal prison.
Violent felonies are often referred to as “crimes against the person” because they typically involve direct and substantial physical harm to the victim. Common violent felonies include:
- First-Degree Murder: An intentional killing carried out by premeditation and deliberation. Felony murder is also considered first-degree murder, however, this will depend on the state because some have statutes classifying it as second degree murder.
- Second-Degree Murder: Are those crimes that do not fall under first degree murder. It is often defined as an intentional killing that was not planned in advance and displays a reckless disregard for human life. Again, the definitions will vary by state.
- Attempted Murder: The defendant attempted to take the life of another, but ultimately failed.
- Voluntary Manslaughter: This occurs when the defendant was provoked into intentionally taking the life of another, which includes an imperfect self-defense claim. The provocation element usually arises from an assault or discovery of adultery. Hence, why the crime typically occurs during a “heat of passion” moment.
- Involuntary Manslaughter: An unintentional taking of another’s life due to the gross negligence or reckless behavior of the defendant, such as driving drunk.
- Robbery: The unlawful taking of property with the use of threat or force. Robbery also includes the crime of armed robbery if a weapon is involved and will produce greater punitive consequences.
- Threats: The defendant threatens to inflict bodily injury on another.
- Kidnapping (in first degree): The defendant abducts a victim and inflicts serious bodily harm in the process.
- Aggravated Assault and Battery: Although these are two separate crimes, they are often combined if the assault (threat) is carried out. Basically, an assault is an intentional act that causes the victim to be aware of imminent harmful or offensive touching, which merges into battery when the intentional physical act is completed.
- Domestic Violence: Depending on the nature of the offense and the laws of the jurisdiction where it occurred, domestic violence can be considered either a felony or misdemeanor. It is generally elevated to a felony when it concerns serious bodily harm, abuse of a minor child, or acts involving the use of a deadly weapon.
- Rape: Nonconsensual sexual penetration that occurred due to the use of force, threats or coercion, unconsciousness, intoxication, or intellectual disabilities.
- Carjacking: This is essentially a robbery of an automobile that is done in a forceful or violent manner. The defendant will cause the owner or driver of a car to give them control of the vehicle by either removing them from it or forcing them to stay and taking over the vehicle.
There are several defenses that may be available to a defendant charged with a violent felony. Some common defenses include:
- Mistake or accident;
- Adequate Provocation; and
- Insanity or diminished capacity.
This list does not include all the types of defenses that may be available to a defendant. The reason for that is because the defenses that are available will be based on the unique circumstances of each individual case as well as the specific offense. As such, if you are facing violent felony charges, you should contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance.
The penalties for a conviction of a violent felony are often severe and have far-reaching consequences. They normally remain on your criminal record indefinitely. This can jeopardize your ability to get a job, retain custody of your children, and even participate in elections (i.e., loss of rights to vote).
Thus, it would probably be in your best interest to hire a criminal defense lawyer. A qualified lawyer can provide guidance about the laws that apply to your case, review your charges and check for any defenses that may be available, explain the possible penalties that you are facing, and provide representation in court on the matter.
Since felonies and their potential consequences vary by jurisdiction and statute, you should consult a criminal defense lawyer who is local to your area. They will be able to provide the most relevant information for your case.