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What is the Definition of a Felony?

In general, a felony can be defined as any criminal offense that results in a prison of one year or longer. They tend to be crimes that involve an element of violence and are considered harmful or dangerous to society. Felony crimes also include some of the most serious types of crimes that a person can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson.

Crimes that do not amount to the level of a felony will usually fall into one of two other categories: misdemeanors or citations.

What are Some Differences Between Misdemeanors and Felonies?

There are two main differences between a felony and misdemeanor offense. The first is that felony crimes are generally more serious than crimes that are considered to be misdemeanors. Felonies also tend to involve an act of violence.

The second difference between the two is the form of punishment that a convicted person can receive. Since felony crimes are viewed as more severe than misdemeanor offenses, it follows that their punishments are too.

If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor, they may have to pay criminal fines and could receive a jail sentence of no longer than one year. If a person is convicted of a felony, however, it can result in a prison sentence for at least one year or longer and the fines will be greater than those imposed for a misdemeanor.

In addition, there is a third possibility that a person may receive called a “wobbler.” A wobbler refers to a crime that falls between a misdemeanor and a felony offense. The circumstances of a case will dictate whether the defendant will be convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

Basically, if the crime is one of a non-violent nature and the defendant did not harm anyone in the process, then the court may decide to issue a punishment that is more in line with a misdemeanor sentence. On the other hand, if the crime is violent, the defendant is a repeat offender, and they hurt someone during the commission of the crime, then the wobbler will more likely result in a penalty similar to those given for felony offenses.

What Are Classes of Felonies?

Each state separated a felony into categories, or classes, according to the severity of the crime and punishment. The classes are different in each jurisdiction. Some states, including Alabama and Alaska, classify felonies by alphabet, such as Class A and Class B. Other states such as Arizona and Colorado classify felonies by a numerical level, such as 1, 2, and 3. There are some jurisdictions that do not have classifications or follow a hybrid class and level system.
The federal level has approximately 43 levels, not classes, of felony crimes.

Is a Class A Felony Serious?

A Class A felony, also considered a Level 1 felony, is a classification reserved for the most serious crimes, such as murder or involuntary servitude of a child. For instance, an individual convicted of a Class A felony may be sentenced to life in prison. However, which crimes are classified as a Class A felony depend on each state's laws.

What Is a Class B Felony?

A Class B felony crime is a very serious crime, but not a serious as a Class A felony. Thus, the sentence for a Class B felony is usually not as severe as a sentence for a Class A felony, but it usually does include some prison time. Keep in mind that the amount of time an individual receives in prison depends on whether there are sentencing enhancements. For instance, an individual may be sentenced to decades in prison beyond the original potential sentence if they:

  • Have any prior convictions
  • Used a deadly weapon
  • Committed a gang crime
  • Committed a hate crime

What Are Other Felony Classifications?

Felonies are considered less serious with each alphabet. For instance, Class C includes crimes such as involuntary manslaughter and selling or purchasing a child. This crime is a homicide that the accused did not mean to commit, and it occurs during the commission of a crime or because of criminal negligence. The prison sentence for a Class C felony can range from five to 10 years. Felony classes also include D and E.

What is a Violent Felony?

A violent felony is one that involves the use of threat or force against another person. This force can result in injury or even death. They are classified as mala in se crimes (i.e., the crime is inherently wrong itself). This means that they violate the moral, public, or natural principles of a society. Thus, a defendant convicted of a violent felony will typically receive a more serious sentence.

Common examples of malum in se crimes include:

  • Battery; 
  • Larceny; 
  • Robbery; 
  • Shoplifting; 
  • Vandalism; and 
  • Drunk driving.

Given their nature, violent felonies are also prosecuted more aggressively than nonviolent crimes. Aside from receiving longer prison sentences, a person convicted of a violent felony crime can also expect to receive steep penalties and in some states, the death penalty. As mentioned, the type of punishments available will depend on the jurisdiction.

Additionally, other aggravating factors can increase any potential penalties. If an aggravating factor is present, it can make the crime itself worse. Some examples include whether a weapon was used, whether the victim was a police officer or young child, and if the defendant has a prior criminal record.

Once a defendant is convicted of a violent felony, they may lose a number of rights that can produce far-reaching consequences. These will remain on their record even after they have satisfied their sentences. As with state statutes and punishments, the set of rights that are taken away will also depend on the jurisdiction.

What is the Difference Between Violent Felonies and Nonviolent Felonies?

The main difference between violent and nonviolent felonies is in their titles, namely, that one is for violent crimes and the other is for nonviolent offenses.

Nonviolent felonies do not involve the use or threat of any force, which means that they do not usually result in physical injury to another individual. In other words, they can often be considered “victimless crimes.”

Most nonviolent crimes involve some variety of property damage, such as larceny or theft. Thus, the seriousness of a nonviolent crime tends to be measured by economic or financial damages, or losses to the victim. Some examples include:

Also, since the degree of harm is less than that of a violent felony, nonviolent offenses are often treated with more leniency. Regardless, they are still punishable by up to several years in state or federal prison.

What are Some Types of Violent Felonies?

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

  • First-Degree Murder: An intentional killing carried out by premeditation and deliberation. Felony murder is also considered first-degree murder, however, this will depend on the state because some have statutes classifying it as second degree murder. 
  • Second-Degree Murder: Are those crimes that do not fall under first degree murder. It is often defined as an intentional killing that was not planned in advance and displays a reckless disregard for human life. Again, the definitions will vary by state.
  • Attempted Murder: The defendant attempted to take the life of another, but ultimately failed.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter: This occurs when the defendant was provoked into intentionally taking the life of another, which includes an imperfect self-defense claim. The provocation element usually arises from an assault or discovery of adultery. Hence, why the crime typically occurs during a “heat of passion” moment.
  • Involuntary Manslaughter: An unintentional taking of another's life due to the gross negligence or reckless behavior of the defendant, such as driving drunk
  • Robbery: The unlawful taking of property with the use of threat or force. Robbery also includes the crime of armed robbery if a weapon is involved and will produce greater punitive consequences.
  • Threats: The defendant threatens to inflict bodily injury on another. 
  • Kidnapping (in first degree): The defendant abducts a victim and inflicts serious bodily harm in the process.
  • Aggravated Assault and Battery: Although these are two separate crimes, they are often combined if the assault (threat) is carried out. Basically, an assault is an intentional act that causes the victim to be aware of imminent harmful or offensive touching, which merges into battery when the intentional physical act is completed. 
  • Domestic Violence: Depending on the nature of the offense and the laws of the jurisdiction where it occurred, domestic violence can be considered either a felony or misdemeanor. It is generally elevated to a felony when it concerns serious bodily harm, abuse of a minor child, or acts involving the use of a deadly weapon. 
  • Rape: Nonconsensual sexual penetration that occurred due to the use of force, threats or coercion, unconsciousness, intoxication, or intellectual disabilities.
  • Carjacking: This is essentially a robbery of an automobile that is done in a forceful or violent manner. The defendant will cause the owner or driver of a car to give them control of the vehicle by either removing them from it or forcing them to stay and taking over the vehicle.

What are Some Common Defenses to Violent Felonies?

There are several defenses that may be available to a defendant charged with a violent felony. Some common defenses include:

  • Self-Defense;
  • Mistake or accident;
  • Consent;
  • Misidentification;
  • Adequate Provocation; and
  • Insanity or diminished capacity.

This list does not include all the types of defenses that may be available to a defendant. The reason for that is because the defenses that are available will be based on the unique circumstances of each individual case as well as the specific offense. As such, if you are facing violent felony charges, you should contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance. 

What is a Felony Traffic Offense?

There are different classifications of traffic offenses, depending on their seriousness. Most traffic offenses are classified as minor infractions and result in a traffic ticket and/or a small fine. There are, however, some more serious traffic violations that are classified as misdemeanors and felonies.

Felony traffic offenses, also known as felony traffic violations, occur when a traffic offense results in injuries to an individual or destruction of property. The most common types of felony traffic offenses are DUI related, or related to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

What Types of Traffic Violations are Considered Felonies?

Felonies are serious traffic offenses that are generally considered to be the most serious crimes in any jurisdiction. Which traffic offenses are considered felonies varies by jurisdiction and state. However, most jurisdictions consider the following traffic violations as felonies:

  • Vehicular homicide and/or manslaughter;
  • Repeat and/or multiple DUI convictions;
  • Other repeat offenses, including repeatedly driving without a license;
  • Some types of reckless Driving, including racing and/or other violations that cause injury and/or property damage;
  • Leaving an accident scene, also known as hit and run, especially if the accident involves a collision with another vehicle causing bodily injuries and/or property damage; and/or
  • Fleeing from law enforcement.

In some states, a traffic offense may be categorized as “aggravated” or “gross” misdemeanors. This categorization means that, although the offense is a misdemeanor, it may result in harsher penalties similar to those of felonies.

Although an individual cannot receive a felony speeding ticket, a driver may be charged with a felony if their speeding leads to a significant injury and/or death of another. Driving over 100 miles per hour is likely to result in large fines and points on your driving record, if the state uses that system. Some states, including California and Oregon, have higher fines for 100 miles per hour violations and driver's may face license suspension depending on the circumstances.

What are the Consequences of being Convicted of a Traffic Felony?

A felony is a crime that, if an individual is convicted, is punishable by a prison sentence of over one year. In general, traffic felonies usually include a monetary fine as well as a prison sentence. Fines can range from $500 to thousands of dollars depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction.

A traffic felony may negatively impact a driver in many ways, including:

  • Suspension and/or permanent loss of a driver's license;
  • Driver retraining and/or suspension;
  • Adding points to a driver's license history;
  • Insurance premiums increase;
  • A loss of citizen's privileges, including voting and/or being allowed to teach in a professional setting;
  • Towing and/or impounding of the car used in the commission the felony;
  • Being prohibited from owning firearms;
  • A permanent criminal record;
  • If convicted of a DUI, an individual may be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle; and/or
  • A life sentence in prison in jurisdictions with a “three strikes” felony rule.

It is important to note that some traffic crimes that are usually charged as misdemeanors may be increased to a felony charge, especially if the offense has been repeated more than once.

What Happens After You are Charged with a Felony Traffic Offense?

If an individual is criminally charged with a felony traffic offense, they will be read their Miranda rights. These rights state that any statements made by an individual during a custodial interrogation by law enforcement and/or a government agent may not be used against them unless they have been read their rights.

These rights must be invoked immediately upon being taken into custody and/or arrested. The Miranda rights warning reads:

    "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you."

The exact wording of the rights may differ by jurisdiction, but includes all components.

After being arrested, a defendant is required to appear in court for an arraignment hearing. An arraignment hearing is a court hearing in which the defendant must appear in criminal court. They will be read the charges against them, advised of their rights, and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If an individual fails to appear for an arraignment, the judge may issue a warrant for their arrest and/or suspend their driving privileges.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, they have the right to a trial by judge or a trial by jury and to be represented by an attorney. If they cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint one to represent them. If they are convicted, they may be sentenced to imprisonment as well as any of the following consequences:

  • Ordered to pay fines;
  • Ordered to pay court costs; and/or
  • Have points added to their driving record.

Are There Any Defenses to Felony Traffic Charges?

Yes, there are defenses available to felony traffic charges. If an individual is not read their Miranda rights, any statements made during an interrogation will be inadmissible in court.

Additionally, the defendant may argue that there was a lack of probable cause for their arrest. Probable cause is the reasonable belief that an individual has committed a crime or will commit a crime. A law enforcement officer must have evidence to support an arrest, not simply a hunch or gut feeling that a crime has occurred.

Other defenses may include arguing that an individual did not commit the offense. A defendant may also argue that the law enforcement officer stopped their car for no legitimate reason.

Do Felony Traffic Offenses Go Away?

It may be possible to have some criminal convictions expunged from an individual's record. Record expungement is a legal process in which an individual's criminal record is treated as if it no longer exists. This may be helpful when applying for a job or housing.

The rules and requirements for expungement vary greatly from state to state. It is usually easier to expunge minor crimes and juvenile records. Some states, however, do permit felony expungements.

Generally, specific criteria must be met prior to petitioning the court for an expungement. Depending on the jurisdiction, these may include:

  • Completion of a waiting period after the conviction, the length of which varies by state;
  • Meeting the terms of a conviction, including serving jail time, completing probation, and/or the payment of fines and/or restitution;
  • Evidence of no subsequent criminal charges or convictions; or
  • Evidence of rehabilitation and contribution to society, which can be through employment, education, and/or volunteer work.

Once an individual meets their jurisdiction's eligibility criteria, they can file a petition with the court for an expungement. Usually, this petition is filed in the same court where the criminal case occurred. Depending on the jurisdiction, an individual may have to attach information to the petition, such as a certified copy of their criminal record.

A traffic offense lawyer can help with this process and advise an individual what criteria need to be met in their state prior to filing the petition. A lawyer can also assist an individual with filing their expungement petition.

What Factors Influence Felony Sentencing?

There are several factors that can influence the sentence for a felony conviction. Such factors can work both ways. For example, a judge may be more lenient when issuing a punishment for a first-time offender; especially, if the felony was a non-violent crime. In contrast, the judge will most likely not reduce a sentence if the defendant is a repeat offender and the felony committed resulted in serious harm to another person.

A sentence can also be reduced if the defendant raises a successful defense. For instance, if the defendant is charged with felony assault, but the victim knowingly consented to the act, then the defendant can assert consent as a defense and may potentially get their sentence reduced.

The laws of a state and the type of crime committed can also affect the sentencing a defendant receives. For example, there are certain crimes known as “wobblers” that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Which way the charges end up falling will depend on whether specific factors were present during commission of the crime.

For instance, if no aggravating factors exist (e.g., use of a deadly weapon, type of victim, etc.), then the defendant can argue that their sentence should be similar to those that apply to misdemeanors.

In addition to any criminal consequences, the defendant may also be faced with a civil lawsuit. This means that they may have to pay both criminal fines and civil damages. For example, a victim of domestic violence may press charges and sue the defendant for compensation. In this case, the defendant may be liable for compensating them for medical bills and lost wages.

However, if the defendant can show their actions were done in self-defense or some other defense that causes the plaintiff to lose or their claims to become questionable, then the defendant may be able to get their civil penalties reduced or dropped.

What is a Felony Expungement?

Getting a felony expunged (i.e., removed) from a criminal record is an extremely difficult task. The general rule of thumb is that the more serious the crime committed, the less likely a person can have it expunged. Thus, felonies such as sex crimes, first-degree murder, and child pornography are typically not eligible for expungement.

Some factors that make it more likely that the court will consider a request for expungement include if the person was a minor when the crime was committed, the nature of the crime charged, the amount of time that has passed since the conviction or arrest, and if they have completed all court-ordered requirements for their sentence.

Note that there is a difference between when a defendant gets arrested for a felony versus when they are charged with a felony. A felony arrest simply means that the suspect is in custody based on the belief that they committed a felony. On the other hand, a felony charge means that an official legal proceeding has been initiated against the person.

Although still not an easy feat, it is much more likely that a court will expunge an arrest for a felony than a felony charge.

What is a Felon?

A felon is a person who has been charged and convicted of a felony offense. This often means that they received a jail or prison sentence for at least one year, and possibly longer.

The legal penalties for felony convictions can be harsh, but what many people do not consider is the long-lasting impact that a conviction can have on a felon's life; even after they have already served their sentence.

Generally speaking, a felony conviction will remain on a person's criminal record for the rest of their life. Having a record will make it difficult to find a job, gain custody rights over children, and can take away the right to vote in elections.

Additionally, if a felon is charged and convicted of another crime in the future, their resulting punishment will most likely be more severe than their last (e.g., a longer prison sentence, higher fines, etc.).

Can an Attorney Help Me Face Felony Charges?

If you are facing charges for a felony offense, then you should strongly consider hiring a local criminal defense attorney for assistance. Your attorney will be able to explain how the laws in your state apply to your particular case, the consequences of a conviction, and the next steps you should take.

In addition, your attorney can help you prepare and file documents with the court for your case, and can provide representation on your behalf as well. Your attorney will also be able to determine if there are any defenses you can raise against the charges and whether there is a possibility to have your charges reduced or dropped.

Therefore, it would be in your best interest to consult an attorney. Without one, not only is there a higher risk of receiving a conviction, but you also miss out on the opportunity to argue for a lower sentence. As such, it is very likely that you could be looking at significant jail time and heavy criminal fines.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.