There are three classifications of crime: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. Felonies of which are the most serious of the three. Crimes considered a felony can include: aggravated assault and/or battery, arson, burglary, domestic violence, drug-related crimes, DUI, fraud, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft and vandalism.
A person convicted in court of a felony becomes labeled a felon. Felonies have several differences in comparison to misdemeanors, ranging from length of punishment to statute of limitations. Most states and the federal government classify felonies as crimes that carry a minimum sentence of more than one year. Additionally, a felony may be punishable by death in the case of the most serious crimes like murder.
Different classes of felonies
Typically, felonies are divided according to what is threatened: people or property.
Crimes against persons
- Assault: An assault is the unlawful attempt or offer to direct violence at someone with the purpose of hurting them. Definitions of assault vary from state to state but are close to the common law definition. Assault is an overt act that makes the victim feel scared. An open threat coupled with perceived ability to carry out the threat can be assault even if the victim is never physically harmed. An assault becomes a felony when a person attempts to cause serious injury to another or a deadly weapon is used as part of the assault.
- Criminal Battery: Battery is defined as the use of force against another person resulting in harmful and unlawful contact. Battery is different than assault since with assault, contact is not necessary.
- Domestic violence: This is when one member of a household abuses another. Domestic violence has many forms from direct physical aggression to sexual abuse, emotional abuse and stalking. Though instantly thought of as between spouses, this can apply to any relationship in the same home, including roommates. Whether or not this is a felony depends on the frequency and severity of the act in many states.
- Drug-related crimes: Whether or not a drug crime is classified as a felony depends on the amount of the drug a person has and what they intend to do with it. Additionally, possession of more potent drugs, like cocaine,may result in a felony citing, even if it's a slight amount. Possession is not restricted to what is found on the person. It can include what's discovered in an area that the person owns, such as their home. If a person is found with a large amount of drugs, they may be convicted of “drug trafficking" as it will be assumed that they have intent to sell.
- DUI/DWI: Driving under the influence or, in some states, driving while intoxicated, happens when you operate a vehicle after or while using alcohol or drugs. This becomes a felony depending on the frequency of the offense and if anyone else was injured while it occurred. It can also be applied to objects other than cars. Motorcycles, boats, even snowmobiles can be classified as vehicles in some states.
- Kidnapping: This felony happens when one person takes another against their will or forces them to stay somewhere against their will with ill-willed intentions. It happens in the movie sense, where a person is snatched for a ransom, but it also happens when a child is held by a parent without custodial rights to the child.
- Manslaughter: There are two forms of manslaughter, involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary manslaughter happens when someone is accidentally killed because of negligence (no intent to kill), like when driving under the influence causes another person's death. Voluntary manslaughter is the killing of another person following a heated interaction which caused an otherwise reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally distraught. The timing is also important. In order to qualify as voluntary manslaughter, the violence needs to occur within a time frame that coincides with the initial heated interaction.
- Murder (1st and 2nd degree): First degree murder is the intentional killing of another person after planning to do so. This is when the oft-heard term "premeditated" is applicable. Second degree murder is separated from first degree murder by the prior intent. Whereas some form of planning or prior purpose is shown to qualify as first degree murder, second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Instead it may arise from a crime such as arson, rape, or armed robbery.
- Rape: This is when one person forces another into a sex act without consent. All rapes are felony acts.
- Robbery: Robbery is the taking of property from a person with force. The force can be very slight to elevate the crime from theft to robbery.
Crimes against property
- Arson: This is the crime of voluntarily setting a fire to a building or another form of property for an illegal purpose. For example, burning down a building for the insurance money. This can also apply to setting wildfires.
- Burglary: Burglary is the unlawful entry into a building structure with the intent to commit a criminal offense. Burglary is much more serious than theft particularly where the structure is inhabited.
- Fraud: Felony Fraud is the most serious type of fraud. It usually involves a governmental agency, valuable assets or large sums of money. Insurance fraud is an example of a felony.
- Theft: Theft is simply the unlawful taking of another person's property without the intent to return it. This is the lowest in seriousness compared to robbery and burglary. The value of the "property" taken determines whether or not this crime is a felony.
- Vandalism on Federal Property: Destruction or disfigurement of national parks, monuments, historic sites, and military installations has a rather severe punishment in comparison to other property.
Felony degrees and example penalties
Classifications vary by state. Some states use numeric levels to represent classifications (for example: capital, life, 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, or class 1, 2, etc). Others use an ascending letter system (class A, B, etc.).
For example, in Washington state, there are three classes of felonies: Class A (which has a maximum penalty of life in prison and $50,000 fine); Class B (maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine); and Class C (maximum penalty is five years and $10,000 fine). Sentencing in felony cases is based on seriousness of the crime. The sentencing levels vary from Level I to XVI and are also dependent on the defendant's "offender score."
When convicted of a felony in the United States, there can be long-term issues following the serving of a jail sentence. Some examples:
- Deportation if the criminal is not a citizen
- Loss of voting rights
- Exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armor
- Ineligibility to run for public office
- Ineligibility to serve on a jury
- Exclusion from obtaining certain licenses