What Is a Class 5 Felony?
Only a handful of states in the country have felonies divided into numbered classes that extend to at least Class 5. Four states – Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona, and Virginia – have at least six different classes for felonies. That makes class 5 felonies a less serious penalty but still more than a step away from a misdemeanor. Examples of Class 5 felonies throughout the country include:
- Theft of property – Colorado
- Battery by a prisoner – Virginia
- Incest – South Dakota
- Pandering – Arizona
Maximum and Minimum Sentences
When deciding on the proper sentence for Class 5 felonies, prosecutors begin with a presumptive sentencing range that has been established in every state. On the low end is Arizona with a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison followed by Colorado with a range of 1 to 3 years in prison. The penalty is somewhat higher in South Dakota – up to 5 years in prison and Virginia – 1 to 10 years in prison. There is a similar range for potential fines in the four states as well. Colorado law calls for a fine of up to $1,000 while Virginia comes in at a maximum of $2,500 and South Dakota allows judges the discretion of imposing a fine of up to $10,000. Arizona law calls for a fine of up to $150,000.
A Class 5 felony is a serious crime, yet it is included in one of the lowest classification of felonies making it possible in some states to avoid a prison term. In Virginia, Class 5 crimes are known as “wobblers” because they can be sentenced as either felonies or misdemeanors depending on the particular circumstances of the crime. Having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor can make a huge difference for a defendant because it is much easier to expunge or set aside a misdemeanor conviction as opposed to a felony conviction. That means the crime is less likely to have a lifelong impact and remain on a person’s record.
It’s also a compelling reason to find an experienced criminal defense attorney to try to reduce a Class 5 felony to a misdemeanor or seek a diversion program or other community sentencing alternative. For example, Virginia offers deferred dispositions in some cases to Class 5 felony offenders and others. These dispositions are most common in marijuana and shoplifting cases. They call for a period of probation during which the defendant may be required to perform community service. If all requirements of probation are met – including no additional criminal activity – the charge is dismissed.
A criminal defense attorney can also defend against possible sentencing enhancement that can be triggered by a variety of aggravating factors. For example, a Class 5 felony offender arrested for the third time in Arizona is automatically sentenced under the most restrictive Class 4 sentencing range. In Colorado, anyone convicted of felony crime involving violence must go to prison.
Loss of Rights and Benefits
As soon as you are convicted of a Class 5 felony, you generally lose the following rights:
- Qualify to run for public office
- Own a firearm or carry a concealed weapon
- Hold jobs in a variety of occupations, from barber and dentist to lawyer, that require state or federal permits or licenses
The impact of a felony conviction can be wide-ranging, beyond the obvious civil rights that are lost. For example, in Virginia a felon can lose his or her license to work as an architect, interior designer or engineer. In some cases, the loss of basic rights such as the right to vote and serve on a jury are automatically restored after completing the sentence for the Class 5 felony offense. In other cases, the process is more involved and a criminal defense attorney can be quite helpful to a felon recently released from prison.
Employment and Housing with a Felony Record
A three-year study by researchers at Arizona State University released in 2014 concluded that employers tend to associate people who have criminal records with drug and alcohol problems, poor work relationships, absenteeism, and tardiness. That’s one reason experts recommend that felons do some homework before seeking jobs or housing. That includes checking with state agencies for the names of employers and landlords willing to accept felons.
Clearing Your Record
The difference between a misdemeanor conviction and a Class 5 felony conviction is huge when it comes to the collateral consequences of a criminal record. The majority of states do not allow felony convictions to be expunged or sealed. However, it is far more common to expunge or seal the record of a misdemeanor. The difference between the two is that a sealed record remains visible to law enforcement officials. But in both cases, it’s as though the crime never occurred. So if you are asked if you have ever been arrested, the correct answer is “no” if that crime has been expunged or sealed. A pardon from the governor can also restore all rights lost due to a felony conviction. A criminal defense attorney can help with the application and the pardon process, such as following any waiting period – often 3 to 5 years.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice, you should consult an attorney.