Felony Explained – What You Need to Know
The United States criminal justice system is one of the most complex legal systems in the world that defines crime and punishment in a very organized manner. One of the criminal classifications in the states is a felony – a severe crime that is punishable by up to life in prison.
In a legal sense, a felony is a serious crime, and the word derives from English common law. Back in England, the punishment for serious crimes, or felonies, was the confiscation of the perpetrator's belonging and land. While other countries in the world no longer use the category of a felony, the United States uses this term to define several crimes committed by offenders in the country.
Type of Felonies
The term 'serious crime' can be quite broad if it has no legal definition. That is why the US has defined what crimes can be characterized as felony crimes in the country:
- Felony Assault
- Sale or manufacturing of drugs
- Grand larceny
- Aggravated assault
- Tax Evasion
- Animal cruelty
Each state in the US decides exactly how it defines felonies and how it punishes those who commit such crimes. In addition to felonies, the law in the United States also defines another class of crimes – misdemeanors.
Felonies and Misdemeanors – what are the Differences?
People tend to confuse these two types of crimes, and if you are uncertain of what are the differences between the two, now you can learn more about them. The major difference between felonies and misdemeanors is that a misdemeanor is a less serious offense compared to a felony. The following result from this legal difference between felonies and misdemeanors, and each state decides what it will do in regards to these crimes:
The facility where the punishment will be carried out: misdemeanors usually result in the offender spending time in a local jail. Felonies usually end up in prison time, according to local laws.
Incarceration time: felonies result in a lengthy prison sentence, and even a death penalty. Misdemeanors, however, are punishable by up to one in jail.
Life after incarceration: misdemeanors do not have harsh long-term consequences after the offender is released from jail. Felonies, on the other hand, can have severe consequences after the offenders is released from prison; people who have been convicted of a felony will have the charges permanently appear of their police records and criminal records. This will affect their chances of getting a job, purchase firearms, and even the right to vote.
Each state and jurisdiction decide how to handle felonies and misdemeanors. That is why sometimes a person who has been charged with a misdemeanor could end up being tried for a felony after the court considers all the factors revolving the crime.
Degrees of Felony Crimes
There are several degrees of felonies in the US, and each one carries a different sentence for the offender:
- First-degree felony - 3 to 11 years (murder, kidnapping, fraud rape, arson)
- Second-degree felony - 2 to 8 years (felony assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter, arson, child molestation, possession of a controlled substance)
- Third-degree felony - 9 months to 5 years (elder abuse, driving under the influence, arson, assault and battery, fraud, transmission of pornography)
- Fourth-degree felony - 6 to 18 months (larceny, involuntary manslaughter, resisting arrest, burglary)
How are Felony Degrees Decided?
The United States legal system has defined two types of felonies: nonviolent felonies and violent felonies. The nonviolent felonies are crimes that do not involve any violence and crimes that did not put the public at risk, such as financial crimes.
Violent felonies are crimes that put the public in harm's way and involved violence. Violent felonies are also crimes that could have caused injury, even though in reality no one was harmed.
Felony Degree Fines
In addition to prison time, felony charges are also punishable by a fine. The restitution money is usually given to the family of the victim or the victim itself. The fines are determined according to the felony degree and the damages caused to people or property:
- First-degree felony - $20,000 or more
- Second-degree felony - $15,000 to $20,000
- Third-degree felony - $10,000 to $15,000
- Fourth degree felony - $5,000 to $10,000
Other Types of Felonies
In addition to violent and nonviolent felonies, there are also other types of felonies, such as unclassified felonies and federal felonies. Aggravated murder and murder are considered unclassified felonies that carry a potential of life in prison and even a death sentence.
Federal felonies are crimes on a state level (forgery, embezzlement, bank fraud) and like "ordinary" felonies, they come with classifications of their own:
- Class A federal felony - Life in prison or death
- Class B federal felony - 25 years or more in prison: prison
- Class C federal felony - 10 to 25 years in prison
- Class D federal felony - 5 to 10 years in prison
- Class E federal felony - 1 to 5 years in prison
How are Felony Punishments Determined?
Each state has the power to decide how to deal with felony offenders according to US laws, as well as state laws. When a felony trial is held, the court takes into consideration all the factors that may influence the sentence. The factors include the offender's criminal records, the severity of the crime, the injuries caused by the crime, the offender's intent and more. As stated before, felonies usually carry a sentence of a year or more in prison. In cases of serious felonies, such as murder, the offender can face a life sentence in prison, and a death sentence is certain states.
Felonies are the most severe crimes in the American legal system, and they are punishable with severe sentences. If you want to find out if a person you know has a felony charge in their past, you can search for their police records and criminal records that will reveal what crimes they committed.