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The term felony, in some common law countries, means a serious crime. The word originates from English common law (from the French medieval word "félonie"), where felonies were originally crimes that involved confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods. Other crimes were called misdemeanors. Many common law countries have now abolished the felony/misdemeanor distinction and replaced it with other distinctions, such as between indictable offences and summary offences. A felony is generally considered a crime of high seriousness, while a misdemeanor is not.
A person who has committed a felony is a felon, and upon conviction of a felony in a court of law is known as a convicted felon or a convict. In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor. Note that the actual prison sentence handed out has no effect on this; the decision is based on the maximum sentence possible under law. For example, if a person is sentenced to six months, but the charge can be "up to two years", it counts as a felony, in spite of the actual time served being well under a year. Individual states may differ in this definition, using other categories as seriousness or context.
Similar to felonies in some civil law countries (Italy, Spain) are delicts, whereas in others (France, Belgium, Switzerland) crimes (more serious) and delicts (délits, less serious); and still in others (Brazil, Portugal), crimes and delicts are synonymous (more serious), as opposed to contraventions (less serious).
- "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. 183 (2007) (citations omitted).
- Aggravated assault and/or battery
Manslaughter (unintentional killing of another)
- Animal cruelty
- Vehicular homicide
- Tax evasion
- Various forms of fraud
- The manufacture, sale, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute of certain types and/or quantities of illegal drugs
- In some states, the simple possession (possession without intent to distribute, e.g., for personal use) of certain types of illegal drugs, usually in more than a certain quantity but regardless of quantity for some drugs in some jurisdictions (such as Virginia for cocaine and heroin)
Grand larceny or grand theft, i.e., larceny or theft above a certain statutorily established value or quantity of goods
Vandalism on federal property.
- Obstruction of justice
- Cheque fraud
- Copyright infringement
- Child pornography
- Mail and wire fraud
- Violating parole, probation, or recognizance bond
Threatening an official (police officer, judge)
- Violent offenses usually contain some element of force or a threat of force against a person. Some jurisdictions classify as violent certain property crimes involving a strong likelihood of psychological trauma to the property owner; for example, Virginia treats both common-law burglary (the breaking and entering of a dwelling house at night with the intent to commit larceny, assault and battery, or any felony therein) and statutory burglary (breaking and entering with further criminal intent but without the dwelling-house or time elements, such that the definition applies to break-ins at any time and of businesses as well as of dwelling houses) as felonies.
- Virginia classifies most felonies by number, ranging from Class 6 (least severe: 1 to 5 years in prison or up to 12 months in jail) through Class 2 (20 years to life, e.g., first-degree murder and aggravated malicious wounding) up to Class 1 (life imprisonment or the death penalty, reserved for certain types of murders). Some felonies remain outside the classification system.
- New York State classifies felonies by letter, with some classes divided into sub-classes by Roman numeral; classes range from Class E (encompassing the least severe felonies) through Classes D, C, B, and A–II up to Class A–I (encompassing the most severe).
- Massachusetts classifies felony as an offense that carries any prison time.
- Ohio classifies felonies by degree ranging from first, second, third, fourth, to fifth degree. First-degree felonies are the most serious category, while fifth-degree felonies are the least serious.
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