Felony Law

What is Felony Law?

Felony law refers to the prosecution and defense of crimes punishable by at least one year in prison. These crimes exist in state and federal court. Municipal court systems typically do not handle felony cases, so if a city police officer makes a felony arrest, the case will be transferred to county court. Felonies are distinguished from misdemeanors, the latter being punishable by less than one year in jail. It should be noted that felony convictions do not require that a year or more of incarceration actually be imposed by the judge, only that the statute provides for such a penalty. It is possible for an individual to be found guilty of a felony and avoid jail altogether, especially with the help of an experienced attorney.

Types of Felony Charges

To refer to a crime as a felony is to label it broadly. Felonies can be further characterized in terms of the nature of the offense. For example, many serious crimes can be described as violent felonies, because they are carried out using force or the threat of force. Violent felonies include things like homicide, robbery, assault, rape, and so forth. Cases in which the victim is severely injured can be charged as aggravated felonies and can expose the defendant to enhanced penalties. A felony may also qualify as aggravated if the defendant brandishes a weapon, or engages in other conduct that makes the crime particularly egregious.

Drug crimes are another common type of felony charge. These can include charges of possession, use, distribution, trafficking, manufacturing, or cultivation. Whether a drug crime will be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depends on the weight of the controlled substance recovered from the defendant as well as the defendant’s previous history of drug-related convictions. Other types of felonies include property crimes such as larceny and burglary, as well as white collar crimes like embezzlement, counterfeiting, and tax evasion. Felonies can also take the form of “subsequent offense misdemeanors.” For instance, DUI is ordinarily a misdemeanor, but multiple DUI offenses in a short period of time may result in felony charges.

Effect of a Felony Conviction

Of immediate concern to anyone charged with a felony are the terms a judge might impose at a sentencing hearing following conviction. These range from the aforementioned one year in prison for less serious felonies, to a possible death sentence for aggravated murders and other brutal crimes. Felony sentences can also include fines, court fees, restitution, community service, counseling, supervised probation, and more.

The effects of a felony conviction go beyond the terms imposed at sentencing, however. For instance, federal law prohibits convicted felons from owning or possessing firearms. The right to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury may also be lost for a period of time following a conviction. A felony record that has not been expunged can also make it more difficult to secure employment, among other things. Felonies that qualify as sex crimes raise a number of other concerns involving registration requirements. A criminal defense attorney can provide details regarding the potential ramifications of a felony conviction under a given set of circumstances.

Reducing a Felony to a Misdemeanor

Defending against felony criminal charges is not necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. With the assistance of a lawyer, there are ways to accept some responsibility for the conduct that led to the arrest, without allowing a felony conviction to be entered. There are deferral programs available, for example, pursuant to which a defendant can complete a term of probation in lieu of a conviction. There are also ways to convince a prosecutor or a jury that the accusations, while true, actually constitute a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

The most common method for reducing a felony to a misdemeanor is through the use of plea bargain. Plea bargaining refers to the negotiation of a lesser charge in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea. Busy prosecutors will often agree to amend a felony to something less serious, if the defendant will agree to accept blame instead of insisting on a trial. And even if a felony case goes to trial, it may be possible to argue a “lesser-included offense” theory to the jury. A lesser-included offense is a crime that consists of some but not all of the elements of a more serious crime.

To understand the concept of a lesser-included offense, consider the example of a defendant charged with felony burglary. Burglary requires that a suspect enter the property of another (trespassing) with the intent to commit a crime such as larceny. At trial, the defendant might admit to entering the victim’s property without permission, but not for the purpose of stealing or committing any other crime. This would allow the jury to find the defendant guilty of the lesser-included crime of misdemeanor trespassing, while acquitting the defendant on the felony burglary charge.

Get Help Defending a Felony

If you have been charged with a felony, it is critical to seek assistance from a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Any delay could result in you inadvertently waiving important constitutional rights. To learn about the strategies for defending your case, contact an attorney in your area.

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Felonies Law - US

  • ABA - Criminal Justice Section

    Founded in 1920, the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association has over 20,000 members including prosecutors, private defense counsel, appellate and trial judges, law professors, correctional and law enforcement personnel, law students, public defenders, and other criminal justice professionals. With its diverse, multi-disciplinary membership, the Criminal Justice Section is uniquely situated to address the pressing issues facing today's criminal justice system.

  • Catching Criminals with DNA Technology

    Only violent and sex offenders must now provide DNA samples to the Crime Lab. The Governor's 2002 legislation requires additional samples from adults and juveniles convicted of any felony, plus misdemeanor stalking, harassment or communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. Correctional staff will obtain saliva swabs, instead of the blood samples now required at much higher cost. The Crime Lab will store the samples and contract to enter them into the databank as federal funding becomes available. The databank may be accessed only for criminal investigations, identifying bodies, and finding missing persons.


    The CODIS Unit manages the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National DNA Index System (NDIS) and is responsible for developing, providing, and supporting the CODIS Program to federal, state, and local crime laboratories in the United States and selected international law enforcement crime laboratories to foster the exchange and comparison of forensic DNA evidence from violent crime investigations. The CODIS Unit also provides administrative management and support to the FBI for various advisory boards, Department of Justice (DOJ) grant programs, and legislation regarding DNA.

  • DOJ - Criminal Division

    The Criminal Division develops, enforces, and supervises the application of all federal criminal laws except those specifically assigned to other divisions. The Division, and the 93 U.S. Attorneys have the responsibility for overseeing criminal matters under the more than 900 statutes as well as certain civil litigation. Criminal Division attorneys prosecute many nationally significant cases. In addition to its direct litigation responsibilities, the Division formulates and implements criminal enforcement policy and provides advice and assistance. For example, the Division approves or monitors sensitive areas of law enforcement such as participation in the Witness Security Program and the use of electronic surveillance; advises the Attorney General, Congress, the Office of Management Budget and the White House on matters of criminal law; provides legal advice and assistance to federal prosecutors and investigative agencies; and provides leadership for coordinating international as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement matters.

  • Felon Disenfranchisement

    In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.[1] In all but two states (Maine & Vermont), felons are deprived of voting rights while serving their sentence. In ten states, felons are deprived of voting rights for life. [2] In the remaining 34 states, felons' voting rights are restored at some point after their sentence has been completed.

  • Felony - Wikipedia

    A felony is a serious crime in the United States and previously other common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors. Most[which?] common law countries have now abolished the felony/misdemeanor distinction and replaced it with other distinctions such as between summary offences and indictable offences. In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the Federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor.

  • Felony Process in the United States

    The Washington Post says more than 1 of every 100 Americans is incarcerated. This is the highest rate of any country. Longer prison terms for drug crimes, and more severe penalties for all types of crimes are partly responsible. States have gotten tougher by changing the classification of offenses from misdemeanors to felonies. This is true for various traffic offenses. Many jurisdictions have added aggravating factors to change misdemeanor driving under the influence charges to felonies. Often first offenders are felony eligible for getting a DUI without having car insurance or having a license suspended for any reason.

  • Most Common Felony Crimes

    What are the most common felonies committed in the US? What are common punishments for these felonies? A list of the 20 most common felonies in the US.

  • National ID and the REAL ID Act

    According to Tim Richardson of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Real ID Act will help law enforcement officers to obtain accurate information of any person that they are contacting. The current complaint from law enforcement is that they do not have accurate and reliable data about convicted felons, because the information from the databases of each state and federal agency is not shared among them. As a result, the lives of the officers are at risk, since they do not fully know if the person they are contacting is convicted felon.

Organizations Related to Felonies Law

  • DNA Initiative

    Providing funding, training and assistance to ensure that forensic DNA reaches its full potential to solve crimes, protect the innocent and identify missing persons.

  • Federal Sentencing

    Pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, the law governing the provision of federal criminal defense services to those unable to afford representation, the Office of Defender Services (ODS) of the Administrative Office of Pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, the law governing the provision of federal criminal defense services to those unable to afford representation, the Office of Defender Services (ODS) of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, primarily through the ODS Training Branch (ODSTB), provides substantial training and other resource support to Federal Defender Organization (FDO) staff and CJA panel attorneys.

  • Felon Search

    You deserve to know where felons are and should have access to free public criminal background check systems. Remember, safety starts with good information, even if it ends with a loaded .44 caliber pistol. While FelonSpy.com can’t help you get a gun, we can certainly help you figure out which direction to point it in.

  • Felony Conviction Records

    Instantly access criminal records databases & get information on sex offenders, felony conviction records, civil court records as well as many other criminal court records.

  • FelonyGuide.com

    FelonyGuide.com is owned by Jail Media, the leading provider of information about county jails in the United States. All content has been created by experts in the field of criminal justice. This information is not intended to take the place of legal advice - since your situation is case-dependent you should seek the advice of a competent professional.

  • Prison Policy Initiative

    Home Page > About About the Prison Policy Initiative The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare. We produce accessible and innovative research to empower the public to participate in improving criminal justice policy. The Prison Policy Initiative is most famous for documenting the distortion in our democratic process caused by the Census Bureau counting people where they are confined, not where they come from.

Publications Related to Felonies Law

  • Felony - FAQs

    A felony charge is a serious matter that should never be taken lightly. If you have been charged with a felony, it is important to learn what you can about your circumstances and contact an attorney. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions people have about felony cases.

  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) - Felonies

    NCJRS is a federally funded resource offering justice and substance abuse information to support research, policy, and program development worldwide.

Articles on HG.org Related to Felonies Law

  • Class A Felony Classification in New York
    New York divides its crimes into two types like many other states: felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are usually considered less serious offenses while felonies are considered more serious. New York goes a step further and divides felony offenses into three different levels.
  • Changes in Federal Criminal Law Since Trump
    Many of my clients ask me how the election of Donald Trump to the presidency has changed the outlook on their cases. As one would expect, the existing criminal laws are now being enforced much more harshly, resulting in unfair incarceration for many first offenders. Below are the three major areas that I have seen substantial changes in the last year
  • What Happens after Being Detained by Police?
    When someone has been suspected of criminal activity, the law enforcement officers that observe the individual may arrest him or her and take him or to the police station. If the person has been detained pending an investigation or questioning, he or she may remain in a local or county jail until read his or her Miranda Rights so he or she may acquire a lawyer.
  • How the Bill of Indictment Affects an Individual
    The Bill of Indictment is a formal document that accuses a specific person of a criminal act. This is presented to the grand jury and signed by a court official, and this affects the accused through possible severe punishment in a federal or state prison or with the death penalty for his or her crimes when convicted.
  • Reliable and Accurate Forensic Testing at Risk under Attorney General Sessions
    Several of my law firm colleagues and I, as well as others in the criminal defense bar in Wisconsin, regularly deal with DNA and other trace forensic evidence. The need for accurate and reliable forensic testing by law enforcement and state crime labs is critical, as our criminal clients’ lives and freedom is at stake.
  • The Differences between Felony and Misdemeanor Drug Charges
    Drug charges are often severe even if the ones issued are misdemeanor, however, knowing the difference could assist the person arrested in knowing how to prepare. The most severe of all drug charges issued are felony, and these could lead to the person’s conviction and sentence to prison for several years or decades.
  • Defending Assault Charges in Philadelphia
    Assault charges in Philadelphia are actually quite complex. The successful defense of any assault-related charge will be based upon the circumstances surrounding the assault, the premeditation or intent of the defendant as well as the presence or absence of “Serious Bodily Injury.”
  • "Making a Murderer" Mini-Series' Steven Avery Denied a New Trial
    This week the Circuit Court Judge of Sheboygan County considered whether to grant a new trial in the Steven Avery case; a case that captured the country’s attention with the popular Netflix series, “Making a Murderer.”
  • Can I Get Back My Right to Vote after Being Convicted of a Felony?
    Restoring the civil rights of an individual is not as easy as filing a petition or going to an official agency and contacting someone, because there are restrictions on these matters depending on the state as well. This means it is important to know if it is possible, how to do so and what rights may be restored if any for the individual that committed and was convicted of a felony charge.
  • Unforeseen Consequences of Conviction
    For a person with a felony conviction, many problems faced are the result of collateral consequences of getting convicted this serious offense.
  • All Criminal Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Criminal Law including: arson, assault, battery, bribery, burglary, child abuse, child pornography, computer crime, controlled substances, credit card fraud, criminal defense, criminal law, drugs and narcotics, DUI, DWI, embezzlement, fraud, expungements, felonies, homicide, identity theft, manslaughter, money laundering, murder, perjury, prostitution, rape, RICO, robbery, sex crimes, shoplifting, theft, weapons, white collar crime and wire fraud.

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