What is Felony?

A felony is the most serious type of criminal offense and can be punishable by sentences ranging from imprisonment for more than a year to life imprisonment without parole and, even, death.

Key Takeaways

  • A felony is the most serious type of criminal offense and can be punishable by sentences ranging from imprisonment for more than a year to life imprisonment without parole and, even, death.
  • Felonies are often violent offenses, such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, but can also include white-collar crimes (tax evasion), and securities fraud.
  • A felony conviction in the U.S. can have long-term consequences after release from incarceration, including deportation for a non-U.S. citizen, exclusion from obtaining certain licenses, and loss of voting rights.

Understanding Felony

A person who commits a felony is a felon and someone convicted of a felony is known as a convicted felon or convict. While felonies are often violent offenses and include major crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, or kidnapping, they can also include white-collar crimes like tax evasion and securities fraud. By way of comparison, a misdemeanor is a lesser offense, punishable by imprisonment for up to a year.

Felonies can be broadly classified on the basis of whether the crime is against a person or property. Crimes against persons include the following:

  • Assault: This is the unlawful attempt to inflict violence on someone with the objective of hurting them, and includes the threat of bodily harm.
  • Domestic violence: This has many forms, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and physical aggression. Domestic violence can apply to any relationship in the same home and is not restricted only to spouses.
  • Drug-related crimes: This depends on the amount of drugs one has and the intention. A large amount of drugs found on a person may result in a drug trafficking conviction on the grounds that there was intent to sell.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI): This violation becomes a felony depending on the frequency of the offense and whether anyone was injured when it occurred.
  • Kidnapping: While the commonplace definition is that of a person held against their will, generally for a ransom, kidnapping also occurs when a child is held by a parent who does not have custodial rights.
  • Manslaughter: Involuntary manslaughter occurs when someone is accidentally killed due to negligence, such as when driving under the influence. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person is killed shortly after a heated argument.
  • Murder (first and second degree): First-degree murder is the intentional and premeditated killing of a person. Second-degree murder is non-premeditated and may arise from an associated crime like robbery.

Crimes against property include the following:

  • Arson: Setting fire to a building or property for an illegal purpose, such as for a fraudulent insurance claim. Setting wildfires also counts as arson.
  • Fraud: Felony fraud is the most serious type of fraud, and generally involves a government agency or large sums of money.

The degree of severity or prior record can turn a misdemeanor into a felony. For example, some states consider theft of just $200 to be a felony, while other states set the threshold at $2,000 or $2,500. Similarly, while driving under the influence is generally regarded as a misdemeanor, repeated DUIs would result in the charge being upgraded to a felony. While most traffic violations are infractions or misdemeanors, felony traffic violations include leaving the scene of an accident and vehicular homicide.

A felony conviction in the United States can have long-term consequences after release from incarceration, including:

  • Deportation for a non-U.S. citizen
  • Exclusion from obtaining certain licenses
  • Loss of voting rights