Felony

By Daisy Rogozinsky
/
July 21, 2022

One of the types of offenses punishable under criminal law is a felony. In this article, we’ll define the term “felony,” give some examples, explain the felony classification system, and offer examples of some common defenses used in felony cases. 

Key Takeaways

  • A felony is an offense punishable under criminal law that is serious enough to be punished by at least one year in prison
  • Felonies often involve an element of violence or are otherwise considered harmful to society
  • Examples of felonies include sexual assault, murder, drug trafficking, arson, and tax evasion
  • Many states classify felonies under different categories based on how serious the crime and its punishment are
  • Some common defenses used in felony cases include self-defense, consent, and insanity

What Is a Felony?​​

A felony is a type of offense punishable under criminal law. Generally speaking, a felony is a crime serious enough to be punishable by at least one year in prison. Crimes that do not qualify as felonies will be classified as either misdemeanors or citations.

Examples of Felonies

Felonies usually involve an element of violence and/or are considered dangerous or harmful to society. Some of the most serious types of crimes that a person can commit such as first-degree murder are considered to be felonies.

Some examples of crimes that are usually classified as felonies include:

  • Sex crimes such as sexual assault and human trafficking
  • Violent offenses such as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and robbery
  • Drug offenses such as distributing, selling, or trafficking drugs
  • Property crimes such as grand theft, arson, and vandalism
  • White collar crimes such as embezzlement, securities fraud, and tax evasion

Classification of Felonies

In many states, felonies are classified under different categories depending on how serious the crime and its punishment are. States that do not classify felonies by categories sentence on a crime-by-crime basis.

In most states, felonies are classified as such:

  • Class A: if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is life imprisonment or if the maximum penalty is death.
  • Class B: if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is twenty-five years or more
  • Class C: if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is less than twenty-five years but ten or more years
  • Class D: if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is less than ten years but five or more years
  • Class E: if the maximum term of imprisonment authorized is less than five years but more than one year.

Felony Sentencing and Defenses

Many factors can influence the sentence given for a felony conviction. For example, judges may be more lenient for first-time offenders, and less so for repeat offenders. 

There are a few common defenses used to reduce the sentence given for a felony, including:

  • Claiming the victim consented to the act
  • Claiming that the act was done in self-defense
  • Claiming that the defendant only committed the act because they were mentally ill

There are also certain crimes known as “wobblers” that can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors depending on the circumstances of the crime. The defense can use certain facts, such as if the crime was committed without a weapon, to have the crime sentenced as a misdemeanor rather than as a felony.

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