State laws are not uniform in how they categorize crimes. Many states divide their criminal statutes or penal code by types of criminal offenses. Some states further categorize crimes by class or degree, depending on the seriousness of the crime. For example, misdemeanors and felonies can be divided into Class A, Class B, and Class C. There is also third-degree, second-degree, and first-degree murder.

Felony crimes are the most serious class of criminal offenses. Felony offenses are generally violent crimes punishable by a jail sentence of more than one year. A felony prison sentence is usually served in a federal or state prison rather than a county jail. Some felony convictions can lead to the death penalty. Types of felonies include:

  • Murder
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • Grand theft
  • White collar crimes
  • Child pornography
  • Specific drug crimes
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape

Those convicted of a felony are called felons. Repeat felons face longer prison times. This is because sentencing laws take into consideration their criminal history. A felony conviction stays on a person's criminal record for the rest of their life. Most felony cases are serious crimes that are not eligible for expungement.

Difference Between Felonies and Other Types of Crimes

The three main categories of criminal charges are felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Misdemeanors are usually defined as crimes that carry a maximum sentence of less than one year. Typical examples of misdemeanors are shoplifting DUIs and some instances of domestic violence and assault. In many cases, people convicted of misdemeanors do not serve jail time. Instead, many must pay a monetary fine or perform court-ordered community service.

The lowest-level criminal offenses are known as infractions. They normally carry no potential jail time whatsoever. Some examples include littering and most traffic violations.

Three-Strikes Laws

Convicted felons who repeatedly commit felonies, known as habitual felons, may be subject to enhanced punishments under felony sentencing guidelines and so-called "three strikes" laws. Using a baseball analogy, federal law and many state laws impose substantially harsher penalties on someone with two prior serious criminal offenses or a history of felony charges. If you've demonstrated a history of committing felonies, especially serious felonies, you will get a long prison sentence or life imprisonment. These laws protect the community from habitual criminals by removing them from the street for good.

Opponents of three-strikes laws contend that these laws are unconstitutional and violate civil rights. Some critics also argue that punishing felons for being habitual offenders is unfair when some blame lies on the government's failure to create effective rehabilitation programs.

Immigration Consequences of Felonies

For defendants who aren't U.S. citizens, committing a felony can have unexpected immigration consequences. In particular, the government may initiate deportation proceedings and return the person to their country of origin. Even people who are lawful permanent residents can be deported. Often, the person must serve out the prison sentence first and then, upon release, is deported.

The possibility of deportation raises the stakes for a noncitizen who pleads guilty to a criminal offense. A defendant who is not a U.S. citizen should consider possible effects on immigration status before accepting a plea bargain offer.

Charged with a felony? Talk to a Criminal Lawyer

If you've been accused of a felony, you'll need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect your legal rights and work the criminal law system to your advantage. It's best to consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney near you.

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