A felony is a type of criminal offense punishable by large fines (typically up to $10,000) and a prison sentence of more than one year (usually served in a state rather than a county jail). Felonies are considered to be much more serious than misdemeanors or civil infractions.
Crimes that do not amount to a felony will typically fall into two categories: misdemeanors or citations (civil infractions). Misdemeanors can be punished with a relatively small fine or a stay in jail of less than one year, and citations can only be punished with a fine.
There is a fourth category of crime called a “wobbler.” A wobbler is a crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense. A wobbler is a crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense. If the crime is non-violent and the defendant did not harm anyone (e.g., a failed attempt to break into someone’s house), the defendant will likely be charged with a misdemeanor.
On the other hand, if the crime is violent, the defendant is a repeat offender, or if they hurt someone during the commission of the crime, then the wobbler will more likely bring on felony-level charges. This would be the case if they broke in and threatened the homeowner. The facts and circumstances of the case will dictate what the defendant will be charged with.
A broad range of crimes falls under the definition of a felony offense. Some common examples of felonies include:
- Various degrees of homicide (e.g., first-degree murder and second-degree murder)
- Sexual assault
- Grand theft (like grand theft auto)
- Some forms of domestic violence
- Serious cases of assault and battery
- Kidnapping or human trafficking
- Interference with custody or guardian rights
- Drug crimes (e.g., selling, trafficking, or distributing)
- Property crimes (such as criminal damage to property);
- Using a device to cheat while gambling or teaching others how to cheat
- Involuntary servitude
- Possession of a firearm by a felon
- Possession of illegal weaponry
- Drunk driving charges that result in death or serious bodily injury to another
- Many kinds of white-collar crimes (e.g., embezzlement, receipt of stolen property)
Although “felony” is usually associated with violent crimes, several crimes are categorized as felonies but are non-violent types of crimes (e.g., embezzlement, selling drugs).
Finally, while felony charges may sometimes be sealed or expunged (removed) from one’s criminal record, it is extremely difficult to do so and can take years before a person will be considered eligible to have it removed. Once convicted of a felony, the conviction will follow the defendant forever.
What are Some Legal Penalties for Felony Charges?
As discussed above, the legal consequences for committing a felony can lead to a prison sentence lasting at least one year or a large fine, usually up to $10,000.
The number of years for being convicted of a felony can range on the relatively shorter end of anywhere from 5 to 25 years or could last for an entire lifetime (e.g., a life sentence without parole).
If the defendant committed more than one crime during the offense, they will receive sentences for each crime, which will be served concurrently or consecutively. For example, a defendant who broke into a home and threatened the homeowner with a gun might receive a sentence of 5 years for breaking and entering and 20 years for assault. The judge will determine whether the two sentences will be served concurrently (at the same time) or consecutively (one after the other).
In the case of concurrent sentences, the total number of years of the sentence would be 20, as the 5-year sentence would be rolled into the 20-year sentence instead of being served independently. On the other hand, if the sentences are consecutive, the total number of years of the sentence would be 25.
If this is not the first time that the defendant has committed a crime (i.e., they are a repeat offender), then their sentence may be longer than one given to a defendant with no criminal record history. Aggravating factors (such as the use of a firearm) can also cause an increase in penalties.
As for the criminal fines issued for a felony charge, they generally involve very high dollar amounts. In some cases, a defendant may also be required to pay criminal retribution, which is paid to the victim for the losses caused by the crime. Criminal restitution must be calculated with certainty and can cover costs such as:
- Medical bills, hospital costs, and other expenses
- Property damage
- Returning of property stolen, or an equivalent dollar amount
Restitution is often paid out in small amounts by the defendant in monthly installments.
Additionally, there are some states where a felony charge could result in the loss of certain rights, such as the right to own a firearm, the right to vote in an election, and the right to obtain custody of a child.
Are There Any Legal Defenses for Felonies?
There are some criminal defenses that a defendant may be able to use against a felony charge. For instance, self-defense is one of the most common types of criminal defenses used for cases involving felony assault and battery. Some other examples of felony defenses include:
- Involuntary intoxication (someone spiked the defendant’s drink, and the defendant was therefore not able to form criminal intent or to be responsible for their actions)
- Improper police action, procedure, or entrapment
- Mistake of fact or accident (e.g., the defendant thought the property was theirs and did not intend to steal anything)
- Insufficient evidence (the prosecution has not proved their case)
- Adequate provocation (the victim provoked the defendant)
- Consent (the supposed victim gave the defendant permission to do whatever the prosecution alleges)
- Insanity or diminished capacity
- Affirmative defenses (e.g., the defendant was not the person who committed the crime)
It is important to note that the facts of a case must support the defendant’s defense. In other words, the defendant cannot assert a defense that would not match up with what happened in the case or would not be available against the type of crime committed.
The defendant can prove their defense through physical things (such as documents or weapons); witness testimony; video, audio, or photographic files; and various other items of evidence.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Assistance with Felony Charges?
If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges for a felony offense, you should strongly consider hiring a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Felony crimes will frequently lead to some very serious legal consequences and punishments for the defendant.
An experienced criminal defense attorney in your area will be able to explain the nature of the charges against you or your loved one, will guide you with valuable legal advice, can help you to prepare your case, and can provide representation on your behalf in court. An attorney can also negotiate a plea deal on your behalf.
An attorney will also be able to determine whether defenses are available for your situation. Most importantly, an attorney will protect your rights as a defendant.