*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.
What constitutes a crime includes many different things. But part of justice is about being able to consistently identify not only what is a crime, but what kind of crime it is too. Because in order to deal out a just verdict in our punitive justice system, there needs to be a legal framework in place that defines crimes so that we can standardize fair and normal punishments for them. In the US crimes fall into 4 basic categories; felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors, and infractions. This blog will focus on defining felonies.
Felonies are the most serious criminal offence; they are associated with the worst crimes and the harshest penalties. These types of crimes are supported by a heinous intent or result in a very serious consequence. For example, heinous intent could be the intent to murder or abduct, and serious consequences include loss of life, serious bodily injury or very significant damage to property. Some examples of offences that make the felony list include murder, terrorism, human trafficking, armed robbery, rape, pedophilia, abduction, trafficking in schedule 1 controlled substances and more.
All felonies are associated with a maximum sentence that exceeds one year of incarceration; crimes with a max sentence of less than a year would fall into a lower tier of crime. Generally speaking, all (legal) types of punishment are possible for felony convictions. So, depending on what state you are in, that could even include execution. And it can certainly include multiple life sentences (because one isn’t till death, as is a common misconception), life sentence with or without the possibility of parole, or a shorter punishment of incarceration. Felonies can also include alternative sentencing that doesn't include incarceration (although they are all associated with a max sentence that is over a year in prison, we stress that this is maximum ie someone could still be convicted of a felony and receive a lesser punishment). Alternative sentencing options can include fines, probation, house arrest or rehabilitation.
It is also important to note the consequences of a felony conviction, even after the individual convicted has served their time. Depending on what state you are, a felony on your record can disqualify you from voting, owning a firearm or working in certain jobs/holding certain licenses. Whether any of that is just is a question for another article; I would assert our punitive justice system is inherently classist, racist and designed intentionally to disenfranchise what could be a powerful group of citizens and stop them from advocating for themselves or advancing out of the circumstances that first led them to crime. I invite you to explore that more deeply.
Felonies can be broken down even further into different classifications that are graded again on the seriousness of the offence and the punishment. I will do a quick summary of each below.
These offences carry maximum punishments of twenty-five years or more, fines of up to $250,000 and the maximum supervised release term of five years.
Sentences in this class range from ten years to less than twenty-five years, fines up to $250,000 and the maximum supervised release is up to three years.
A Class D felony will provide a sentence between five and ten years, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.
This type of felony involves a sentence between one and five years, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to one year of supervised release.