Felony: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 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. [1]



Crimes commonly considered to be felonies include, but are not limited to: aggravated assault and/or battery, arson, burglary, illegal drug use/sales, grand theft, robbery, murder, rape, and vandalism on federal property. Broadly, felonies can be categorized as either violent or non-violent (property and drug) offenses.

Some offenses, though similar in nature, may be felonies or misdemeanours depending on the circumstances. For example, the illegal manufacture, distribution or possession of controlled substances may be a felony, although possession of small amounts may be only a misdemeanor. Possession of a deadly weapon may be generally legal, but carrying the same weapon into a restricted area such as a school may be viewed as a serious offense, regardless of whether there is intent to use the weapon.

"The common law divided participants in a felony into four basic categories: (1) first-degree principals, those who actually committed the crime in question; (2) second-degree principals, aiders and abettors present at the scene of the crime; (3) accessories before the fact, aiders and abettors who helped the principal before the basic criminal event took place; and (4) accessories after the fact, persons who helped the principal after the basic criminal event took place. In the course of the 20th century, however, American jurisdictions eliminated the distinction among the first three categories." Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez, 549 U.S. (2007) (citations omitted).

In some states, felonies are also classified (class A, B, etc.) according to their seriousness and punishment. In New York State, the classes of felonies are E, D, C, B, A-II, and A-I (the most severe). Others class felonies numerically, e.g., capital, life, 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, state jail or class 1, 2, etc. (VA). The number of classifications and the corresponding crimes vary by state and are determined by the legislature. Usually, the legislature also determines the maximum punishment allowable for each felony class; this avoids the necessity of defining specific sentences for every possible crime.

A felony may be punishable with imprisonment for one or more years or death in the case of the most serious felonies, such as murder. Indeed, at common law when the British and American legal systems divorced in 1776, felonies were crimes for which the punishment was either death or forfeiture of property. In modern times, felons can receive punishments which range in severity; from probation, to imprisonment, to execution for premeditated murder or other serious crimes. In the United States felons often face additional consequences, such as the loss of voting rights in many states; exclusion from certain lines of work and difficulty in finding a job in others; prohibition from obtaining certain licences; exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor; and ineligibility to run for, or be elected to, public office. In addition, some states consider a felony conviction to be grounds for an uncontested divorce. All of these losses of privileges, including others noted explicitly by the judge in sentencing, are known as collateral consequences of criminal charges. Finally, if a felon is not a U.S. citizen, that person may be subject to deportation after sentencing is complete.

Civil sanctions imposed on United States citizens convicted of a felony in many states include the loss of competence to serve on a grand or petit jury or to vote in elections even after release from prison. While controversial, these disabilities are explicitly sanctioned by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a Reconstruction-era amendment that deals with permissible state regulation of voting rights.


For state law convictions, expungement is determined by the law of the state. Few states do not allow expungement, regardless of the offense.

Federal law does not have any provisions for persons convicted of federal felonies in a federal United States district court to apply to have their record expunged. While there is pending legislation which may change this, at present the only relief that an individual prosecuted in Federal Court may receive is a Presidential Pardon, which does not expunge the conviction, but rather grants relief from the civil disabilities that stem from it.[2]

See also


  1. ^ 18 U.S.C. § 3559
  2. ^ United States Department of Justice, Pardon Information and Instructions "While a presidential pardon will restore various rights lost as a result of the pardoned offense and should lessen to some extent the stigma arising from a conviction, it will not erase or expunge the record of your conviction."

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FELONY (0. Fr. felonie, from felon, a word meaning " wicked," common to Romanic languages, cf. Italian fello, fellone, the ultimate origin of which is obscure, but is possibly connected either with Lat. fel, gall, or fallere, to deceive. The English " fell " cruel or fierce, is also connected; and the Greek 41)0vs, an impostor, has also been suggested). Legal writers have sought to throw light on the nature of felony by examining the supposed etymology of the word. Coke says it is crimen animo felleo - petratum [a crime committed with malicious or evil intent (fee John)]. Spelman connects it with the word fee, signifying fief or feud; and felony in this way would be equivalent to pretium feudi, an act for which a man lost or gave up his fee (see Stephen's Commentaries, vol. iv. p. 7). And acts involving forfeiture were styled felonies in feudal law, although they had nothing of a criminal character about them. A breach of duty on the part of the vassal, neglect of service, delay in seeking investiture, and the like were felonies: so were injuries by the lord against the vassal. Modern writers are now disposed to accept Coke's definition. In English law, crimes are usually classified as treason, felony, misdemeanour and summary offence. Some writers - and with some justice - treat treason merely as a grave form of felony and it is so dealt with in the Juries Detention Act 1897. But owing to legislation in and since the time of William and Mary, the procedure for the trial of most forms of treason differs from that of felony. The expression summary offence is ambiguous. Many offences which are at common law or by statute felonies, or misdemeanours indictable at common law or by statute, may under certain conditions be tried by a court of summary jurisdiction, and many merely statutory offences which would ordinarily be punishable summarily may at the election of the accused be tried by a jury on indictment (Summary Jurisdiction Act 1879, s. 17).

The question whether a particular offence is felony or misdemeanour can be answered only by reference to the history of the offence and not by any logical test. For instance, killing a horse in an unlicensed place is still felony under a statute of 1786. But most crimes described as felonies are or have been capital offences at common law or by statute, and have also entailed on the offender attaint and forfeiture of goods. A few felonies were not punishable by death, e.g. petty larceny and mayhem. Where an offence is declared a felony by statute, the common law punishments and incidents of trial attach, unless other statutory provision is made (Blackstone, Commentaries, iv. 94) .

The chief common law felonies are: homicide, rape, larceny (i.e. in ordinary language, theft), robbery (i.e. theft with violence), burglary and kindred offences. Counterfeiting the coin has been made a felony instead of being treason; and forgery of most documents has been made a felony instead of being, as it was at common law, a misdemeanour. At the beginning of the 19th century felony was almost equivalent to capital crime; but during that century capital punishment was abolished as to all felonies, except wilful murder, piracy with violence (7 W. IV. & 1 Vict. c. 88, s. 2) and offences against the Dockyards, &c., Protection Act 1772; and by the Forfeiture Act 1870, a felon no longer forfeits land or goods on conviction, though forfeiture on outlawry is not abolished. The usual punishment for felony under the present law is penal servitude or imprisonment with or without hard labour. " Every person convicted of any felony for which no punishment is specially provided by the law in force for the time being is liable upon conviction thereof to be sentenced to penal servitude for any period not exceeding seven years, or to be imprisoned with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding two years " (Stephen, Dig. Cr. Law (6th ed.), art 18, Penal Servitude Act 1891). A felon may not be fined or whipped on conviction nor put under recognizance to keep the peace or be of good behaviour except under statutory provision. (See Offences against the Person Act 1861, ss. 5 . 71.) The result of legislative changes is that at the present time the only practical distinctions between felony and misdemeanour are: I. That a private person may arrest a felon without judicial authority and that bail on arrest is granted as a matter of discretion and not as of right. Any one who has obtained a drove of oxen or a flock of sheep by false pretences may go quietly on his way and no one, not even a peace officer, can apprehend him without a warrant, but if a man offers to sell another a bit of dead fence supposed to have been stolen, he not only may but is required to be apprehended by that person (Greaves, Criminal Law Consolidation Acts). (See Arrest, Bail.) 2. That on an indictment for felony counts may not be joined for different felonies unless they form part of the same transaction. (See Indictment.) 3. That on a trial for felony the accused has a right peremptorily to challenge, or object to, the jurors called to try him, up to the number of twenty. (See Jury.) 4. That a felon cannot be tried in absentia, and that the jury who try him may not separate during the trial without leave of the court, which may not be given in cases of murder.

5. That a special jury cannot be empanelled to try a felony.

6. That peers charged with felony are tried in a special manner. (See Peerage.) 7. That the costs of prosecuting all felonies (except treason felony) are paid out of public funds: and that a felon may be condemned to pay the costs of his prosecution and to compensate up to ioo for any loss of property suffered by any person through or by means of the felony. In the Criminal Code Bills of 1878-1880 it was proposed to abolish the term felony altogether: and in the Queensland Criminal Code 1899 the term crime " is substituted, and within its connotation are included not only treason and piracy but also perjury.

8. That a sentence of a felon to death, or to penal servitude or imprisonment with hard labour or for over twelve months, involves loss of and disqualification for certain offices until the sentence has been served or a free pardon obtained. (Forfeiture Act 1870.) It is a misdemeanour (i.) to compound a felony or to agree for valuable consideration not to prosecute or to show favour in such prosecution; (ii.) to omit to inform the authorities of a felony known to have been committed (see MISPRISION), and, (iii.) not to assist in the arrest of a felon at the call of an officer of the law. (See CRIMINAL LAW; MISDEMEANOUR; MISPRISION.)

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