It may be somewhat difficult to comprehend in today's world, but in the earliest developments of criminal law, a large majority of felony convictions, especially murder, were quickly punished by both a forfeiture of all of an offender's possessions including land and either life imprisonment or death. Being that the range of crimes considered felonies was relatively short throughout the beginnings of the legal system, ultimately this meant that if a felony arrest was mistried, the accused felons, and often their families, perished in quite an unfair and drastic sense.
The only hope for death penalty felony convictions came in the form of a "benefit of clergy" plea, which permitted certain cases- mostly a felony arrest of a clergy member or someone who could read- to be made to a religious court which, for religious reasons, did not impose death as punishments.
For felony convictions of mayhem, on the other hand, a term once used to describe a range of violent assaults that ultimately resulted in a victim becoming incapable of fighting- the permanent damage of an arm or a leg, which contributed to the inability to properly fight in the military, was in many ways, a crime committed against England- forfeit came in the form of mutilation.
Since those earliest legal cases, though, capital punishments have been reserved for only the most serious of all felony convictions. Fortunately, this leaves much room for crime distinction, and over the past centuries, criminal charges and the conditions surrounding them have evolved to assure that justice for criminals, victims, and for the greater society is upheld.
A felony arrest for the rape of a minor, for instance, will naturally come attached to a drastically different punishment than for a felony arrest made which involves the bribery of a public official. In some cases, depending on specific State laws, a felony arrest for a crime like marijuana distribution may be charged as a misdemeanor, not an actual felony, especially if the crime is a first-time offense and the amount of marijuana possessed is of a certain amount. On the other hand, certain petty crimes, especially if an individual is a repeat crime offender, may be upgraded to felony convictions as well.