Felony: Legal Definition, Classifications, Infraction, Arrest, Conviction and Rehabilitation

What is a Felony?

A felony is a serious criminal offence, typically punishable by imprisonment for over a year or other severe penalties, distinguished from lesser crimes such as misdemeanours.

Felony Legal Definition: A Deep Dive into Serious Crimes

In criminal law, the term “felony” is often mentioned, conjuring images of serious crimes and their subsequent severe penalties.

But what exactly does it mean? How does it differ from other crimes, and why is it important to understand its implications?

Historical Origins of Felonies

It has its roots in English common law. Historically, it referred to crimes that resulted in confiscating a person’s land and goods to the detriment of the sovereign.

Over time, as legal systems evolved, the legal definition of a felony expanded to encompass various serious crimes, not just those that affected property or the crown.

Felony vs Misdemeanor

In many jurisdictions, crimes are categorised into two primary classes: felonies and misdemeanours. The primary distinction between the two lies in the crime’s gravity and the punishment’s severity.

  • Felonies: These are more serious crimes, often involving violence or significant financial harm. Examples include murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, and large-scale fraud. In some jurisdictions, convictions typically result in imprisonment for over a year, hefty fines, or capital punishment.
  • Misdemeanours: These are lesser offences, such as petty theft, public intoxication, or minor assault cases where injuries are not severe. Punishments for misdemeanours usually involve jail time of less than a year, community service, or fines.

Classifications of Felonies

Different jurisdictions may classify it differently, often based on the severity of the crime:

  • Class A or Level 1 Felonies: The most severe, often resulting in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Examples include first-degree murder.
  • Class B or Level 2 Felonies: These crimes might involve severe violence or harm but are not as grave as Class A felonies. Examples could be manslaughter or armed robbery.
  • Class C to F or Level 3 to 6 Felonies: These are progressively less severe but still carry significant penalties. Examples might include burglary, drug distribution, or aggravated assault.

Are there financial penalties associated with felony convictions?

Individuals convicted of felonies often face financial penalties and other forms of punishment. These penalties, commonly referred to as fines, vary depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the crime.

Fines can range from modest amounts to millions of dollars, especially in cases involving financial fraud or other white-collar crimes. The imposed fines are intended to serve both as a deterrent to potential offenders and as a means of compensating society for the harm caused.

Failure to pay these fines can result in additional legal consequences, including extended probation or jail time.

Differences between an infraction, misdemeanour and felony

InfractionLeast severeTypically, fines or citationsTraffic violations (e.g., speeding), littering
MisdemeanourModerateFines, probation, and/or jail timePetty theft, simple assault, driving under the influence (DUI)
FelonyMost severeSubstantial prison time or finesMurder, rape, grand theft, drug trafficking
Infraction vs Misdemeanor vs Felony

What Is The Difference Between A Felony Arrest And A Felony Conviction?

A felony arrest occurs when law enforcement detains an individual based on probable cause, believing they have committed a serious crime. A felony conviction, conversely, signifies that the individual has been found guilty of the felony charge, either through a guilty plea or as a result of a trial verdict.

At the point of a felony arrest, the arrested individual is merely accused and has not been formally judged. Following the arrest, the case may proceed to trial or be resolved through plea negotiations.

A felony conviction is a formal judgment by the legal system, indicating the person’s culpability.

While an arrest can lead to potential charges, it does not guarantee them, and not all arrests result in convictions. A conviction, however, confirms the individual’s legal responsibility for the crime and often leads to sentencing and penalties.

Implications Of A Felony Conviction

Being convicted has long-lasting repercussions beyond the immediate legal penalties:

  • Civil Rights: Felons may lose certain civil rights, such as the right to vote, bear arms, or serve on a jury.
  • Employment: Many employers are hesitant to hire individuals with a felony record, making it challenging for felons to find jobs after serving their sentences.
  • Housing: Felons might face difficulties renting apartments or homes, as landlords often conduct background checks.
  • Social Stigma: A felony conviction can lead to societal ostracization, affecting personal relationships and community interactions.

The Road to Rehabilitation

While the consequences of a felony conviction are undeniably severe, it’s essential to remember the underlying principle of many criminal justice systems: rehabilitation.

Many programs aim to help felons reintegrate into society, offering educational opportunities, job training, and counselling services. Society’s challenge lies in balancing the need for punishment with the belief in second chances.

Can A Non-Citizen Be Deported For Committing A Felony?

Non-citizens, legal permanent residents or undocumented individuals can be deported if they commit certain felonies. U.S. immigration law categorises some crimes as “deportable offences,” and committing such an offence can trigger removal proceedings, even if the person has been living in the U.S. for many years.

These deportable offences include aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, drug offences, and certain firearm offences. It is important to note that the term “aggravated felony” in immigration law can encompass crimes that might not be considered felonies in state criminal systems.

Once deported, the individual may also face bars to re-entry, making it challenging to return to the U.S. legally. Given the severe consequences, non-citizens facing criminal charges should seek legal counsel knowledgeable in criminal and immigration law to navigate potential repercussions.


Felonies represent the most severe category of crimes in many legal systems, carrying profound legal and societal implications.

As society evolves, so too does our perception of crime and punishment, prompting us to reassess how we define and deal with felonies continually.

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