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A felony is a serious crime in the United Statesmarker and previously other common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors. Most common law countries have now abolished the felony/misdemeanor distinction and replaced it with other distinctions such as between summary offences and indictable offences.

In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the Federal government defines a felony as a crime which involves a potential punishment of one year or longer in prison.

Overview

Crimes commonly considered to be felonies include, but are not limited to: aggravated assault and/or battery, arson, burglary, illegal drug use/sales, grand theft, robbery, murder, and rape. Broadly, felonies can be categorized as either violent or non-violent (property and drug) offenses.

Some offenses, though similar in nature, may be felonies or misdemeanours depending on the circumstances. For example, the illegal manufacture, distribution or possession of controlled substances may be a felony, although possession of small amounts may be only a misdemeanor. Possession of a deadly weapon may be generally legal, but carrying the same weapon into a restricted area such as a school may be viewed as a serious offense, regardless of whether or not there is intent to use the weapon.

"The common law divided participants in a felony into four basic categories: (1) first-degree principals, those who actually committed the crime in question; (2) second-degree principals, aiders and abettors present at the scene of the crime; (3) accessories before the fact, aiders and abettors who helped the principal before the basic criminal event took place; and (4) accessories after the fact, persons who helped the principal after the basic criminal event took place. In the course of the 20th century, however, American jurisdictions eliminated the distinction among the first three categories." Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez, 549 U.S. (2007) (citations omitted).


In some states, felonies are also classified (class A, B, etc.) according to their seriousness and punishment. In New York State, the classes of felonies are E, D, C, B, A-II, and A-I (the most severe). Others class felonies numerically, e.g., capital, life, 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, state jail or class 1, 2, etc. (VA). The number of classifications and the corresponding crimes vary by state and are determined by the legislature. Usually, the legislature also determines the maximum punishment allowable for each felony class; this avoids the necessity of defining specific sentences for every possible crime.

A felony may be punishable with imprisonment for one or more years or death in the case of the most serious felonies, such as murder. Indeed, at common law when the British and American legal systems divorced in 1776, felonies were crimes for which the punishment was either death or forfeiture of property. In modern times, felons can receive punishments which range in severity; from probation, to imprisonment, to execution for premeditated murder or other serious crimes. In the United Statesmarker felons often face additional consequences, such as the loss of voting rights in many states; exclusion from certain lines of work and difficulty in finding a job in others; prohibition from obtaining certain licences; exclusion from purchase and possession of firearms, ammunition and body armour; and ineligibility to run for, or be elected to, public office. In addition, some states consider a felony conviction to be grounds for an uncontested divorce. All of these losses of privileges, including others noted explicitly by the judge in sentencing, are known as collateral consequences of criminal charges. Finally, if a felon is not a U.S. citizen, that person may be subject to deportation after sentencing is complete.

Civil sanctions imposed on United States citizens convicted of a felony in many states include the loss of competence to serve on a grand or petit jury or to vote in elections even after release from prison. While controversial, these disabilities are explicitly sanctioned by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a Reconstruction-era amendment that deals with permissible state regulation of voting rights.

Expungement

For state law convictions, expungement is determined by the law of the state. Few states do not allow expungement, regardless of the offense.

Federal law does not have any provisions for persons convicted of federal felonies in a federal United States district court to apply to have their record expunged. While there is pending legislation which may change this, at present the only relief that an individual prosecuted in Federal Court may receive is a Presidential Pardon, which does not expunge the conviction, but rather grants relief from the civil disabilities that stem from it.

See also



References

  1. United States Department of Justice, Pardon Information and Instructions "While a presidential pardon will restore various rights lost as a result of the pardoned offense and should lessen to some extent the stigma arising from a conviction, it will not erase or expunge the record of your conviction."



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