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What Is a Violent Felony?

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Violent Felonies vs. Non-Violent Felonies

A felony is a serious criminal offense punishable by at least 1 year in state or federal prison. Violent felonies are felonies that involve the use or threat of force against another person. This force can result in injury or even death. Classified as mala in se crimes, violent felonies are commonly prosecuted more vigorously than non-violent crimes and often carry fairly steep penalties, ranging from a few years in state or federal prison to the death penalty, depending upon the jurisdiction. The penalties vary based on the degree of force used or injury caused by the force.

In addition, other aggravating circumstances can increase potential penalties, including the use of a weapon, whether the victim was a police officer or minor, and the defendant’s criminal record. Once convicted of a violent felony, the offender will lose a number of rights even after they have satisfied their sentence.

A non-violent felony is a "victimless crime," or a crime that involves non-physical injury to another, such as financial injury or property damage. Since the degree of harm is less than a violent felony, these felonies are often treated with more leniency. However they are still punishable by up to several years in state or federal prison.

Examples of Violent Felonies

Violent felonies are often referred to as “crimes against the person” because they involve direct and substantial physical harm to the victim. Common violent felonies include:

  • First-degree murder: The defendant intentionally took the life of another, and the homicide was premeditated and deliberate.
  • Second-degree murder: The defendant intentionally took the life of another but did not plan the killing in advance or the defendant took the life of another during the commission of a felony.
  • Attempted murder: The defendant tried to take the life of another, but ultimately failed.
  • Voluntary manslaughter: The defendant was provoked into intentionally taking the life of another, including imperfect self-defense. The provocation can involve an assault or adultery. This type of homicide generally occurs during the heat of passion.
  • Involuntary manslaughter: The defendant unintentionally took another’s life due to gross negligence or recklessness such as drunk driving.
  • Rape: Nonconsensual sexual penetration occurred due to use of force, threats/coercion, unconsciousness, intoxication, or intellectual disabilities.
  • Assault, battery, and domestic violence: The defendant intentionally touched another in a hurtful or offensive manner, and this touch was unconsented or unwanted.
  • Kidnapping in the first degree: The defendant abducts a victim and inflicts serious bodily harm in the process.
  • Causing bodily injury while evading the police: The defendant hit someone and caused them to die or suffer physical injury while refusing to stop for the police.
  • Threats: The defendant threatens to inflict bodily injury on another.
  • Robbery: The unlawful taking of property using force, such as a weapon.

Common Defenses to Violent Felonies

Available defenses vary based on the unique circumstances of the case and the type of offense. However, common defenses include:

  • Self-defense
  • Mistake or accident
  • Misidentification
  • Adequate provocation
  • Consent
  • Insanity or diminished capacity

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Violent Felony Charge?

The penalties for a conviction of a violent felony are severe and onerous. A skilled criminal defense attorney can properly review your charges, explain the law and possible penalties, investigate your case, and zealously advocate for your best interests in court. Violent felonies and their maximum potential penalties vary by state. A criminal defense lawyer in your jurisdiction can advise you on how to approach the charges.

Photo of page author Jess UF

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-19-2018 12:44 AM PST

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