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What is a Felony?

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A felony is a crime (sometimes referred to as a ‘high crime’) which may be punishable by a sentence, usually more than one year, in a state or federal prison; whereas a misdemeanor may be punishable by a fine or a short term in a local or county jail. State laws for high crimes differ, but the classification and process of arrest, sentencing and victim restitution for these crimes are generally the same throughout the U.S.

Examples of Felony Crimes

Felony crimes include violent, property, drug and weapon offenses:

  • Common types of violent felonies include murder, manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.
  • Common types of property felonies include burglary, larceny, fraud and forgery.
  • Common types of drug and weapon felonies include possession and trafficking.

In the U.S., the majority of defendants convicted of these crimes are sentenced to state prisons and only a small number of defendants are sentenced to terms in federal prisons.

Felony Classification

Felonies are usually classified according to a letter grade – such as Class A, B, C, D, E, F or G felonies. The lower grade felonies are not as serious as the higher grade felonies, and the higher grade felonies carry the highest and harshest sentencing guidelines. For example, in the state of Oregon the unlawful possession of a schedule II drug is a Class C felony – punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $100,000 dollar fine – but the unlawful possession of a schedule I drug is a Class B felony – punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 dollar fine.

Felony Arrest, Sentencing and Restitution

Once a person has been arrested for a felony offense, they are charged with a crime and issued a bail hearing. At the bail hearing the amount of bail is set, or the judge may refuse to issue bail if the defendant has been charged with a particularly severe crime or if the defendant is deemed a high flight risk; the judge will also issue a court date when the defendant will be tried and, if found guilty, sentenced for the crime. In instances of violent or property felonies, the defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to their victims in addition to serving a sentence at a state or federal prison if they are found guilty at their felony trial.

*The information in this article does not constitute legal advice. Please contact a legal professional in your local area for the best up-to-date and accurate legal advice.

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