Felony crimes represent the most serious offenses in the criminal justice system. Felonies are characterized by the severe sentences that can be handed down if a conviction is secured. Because felony offenses are perceived to be a greater threat to society than lesser infractions, the potential penalties reflect the serious nature of these crimes.
Classifications of Felony Crimes
Both felony and misdemeanor crimes are divided into categories based on the perceived seriousness of a particular offense. Felony crimes are usually divided into five categories. Each category corresponds to a different range of punishments, according to the seriousness of the crime. The categories are:
- State Jail Felony Offenses. This category is reserved for the least serious felony crimes. A conviction for a crime in this punishment range can carry a sentence of 180 days to 2 years in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Third Degree Felony Offenses. A third degree felony conviction is punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Second Degree Felony Offenses. Second degree felonies have a potential sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- First Degree Felony Offenses. A conviction for a first degree felony can carry a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. A conviction can also bring a life sentence.
- Capital Felony Offenses. Capital crime convictions can carry a sentence of life imprisonment or a death sentence.
Although felony crimes are usually offenses that cause serious harm to others or pose a significant threat to others, it is sometimes up to the prosecution, judge or jury to choose how to classify a particular crime. This is especially true in the case of repeated offenses.
This means that experienced legal counsel is indispensable to anyone facing felony charges. An attorney can negotiate with the prosecution and the judge in an attempt to reduce felony charges to a less severe penalty category. Also, an attorney can search for evidence to dispute the assertions of the prosecution.