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Washington Law: What is a Felony?

Posted by attorney Jeffrey Lustick

A felony offense in Washington State is a serious crime for which the punishment may be more than one year in a state or federal prison. All felonies in Washington, including juvenile felonies, are handled in the Superior Court. Washington State law establishes three classes of felonies: Class A Felonies: These include the most "violent offenses" and "seriously violent offenses" under state criminal law (explained below) and carry a possible maximum penalty of death or imprisonment for life and a maximum $50,000 fine. Class B Felonies: Constitute violent crimes and crimes against persons. This level of felony carries a possible maximum term of imprisonment of up to ten years and a maximum fine of $20,000. Class C Felonies: These are lesser offenses, most are non-violent in nature, but they carry a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Washington State courts also utilize a detailed sentencing guideline which further divides all state felonies into 15 seriousness levels from Level I (least serious) to Level XV (most serious). Both the class and seriousness level are important when it comes to determining the actual number of months or years a defendant may be facing if convicted of a felony. Federal courts use a similar sentencing guideline system. State felony offenses can also be divided into other general categories such as: seriously violent, violent, violent-sex, non-violent, non-violent sex, and non-violent-traffic. These classifications can sometimes impact the rate at which a person convicted of a felony receives earned release time in prison (credit for good time) as well as whether the felony conviction can someday be removed or vacated from the person's record.

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