As a broad grouping, felony convictions are suggestive of some of the heaviest and most serious crimes committed across the nation. In contrast to misdemeanors, like petty theft, public intoxication, or indecent exposure, which are considered far less severe than felonies, and juvenile crimes, for which minors are the culprits, felony charges predominantly refer to both violent and non-violent crimes committed for which there was a reasonable intent to violate, or an actual deliberate violation, of criminal law.
A felony also usually implies that at least one year of imprisonment (but often more) must be served as punishment and that a hefty fine must be paid. Additionally, convicted felons will often have many rights revoked, such as the right to bear arms, the right to vote, and the right to serve in the military. Trouble finding insurance or a job in the workforce after release from prison may also pose problems for convicted felons. While some felony convictions may, in time, be expunged (or cleared) if there is no prior history of a criminal offense, most states will have individualized laws pertaining to this issue.
Violent Felony Charges
Ranging from murder and kidnapping to armed robbery, violent felonies are classified by the use of violence, or in some cases, by the threat of violence alone. If an offender is capable of following through with a crime, whether the initial threat is successfully carried out or not usually holds no relevance when issuing a felony conviction.
Overall, the main classifications of violent felonies, according to the U.S. Justice Department, are murder crimes, rape crimes, robbery crimes, and simple and aggravated assault crimes. Aggravated assault, or a violent crime committed by an individual most often possessing a potentially deadly weapon, is the most prevalent of all violent felonies. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of serious harm can be enough to make the distinction.
Succeeding aggravated assaults are robberies, which are the second most common violent felonies committed. Even if there is no direct contact involved, a crime may still be categorized as being violent in nature. For instance, DUI offenses associated with causing serious accidents in which at least one person was injured or killed may be brought to trial as a violent felony as well.
The majority of non-violent felony convictions, although seemingly less severe, often hold similar punishments as their violent counterparts, especially if the crime committed is on a grand scale. In general, though, non-violent crimes are separated by their lack of physical violence. Most property offenses, like burglary, vandalism, drug trafficking, possession, and distribution offenses, and "white-collar" corporate crimes, like money laundering, bribery and counterfeiting, are included on nearly all non-violent State felony lists.
Depending on whether or not an offender has committed a crime before, and also on the severity of the crime, some non-violent felony charges may lead to sentences even longer than violent felony convictions. Other non-violent felonies include, but are not limited to, blackmail, the creation and placement of a false bomb, computer tampering, and promoting gambling and prostitution, among many others.
Penalties Classified Into Tiers
While each State will ultimately have its own specific set of violent and non-violent felony classifications for the most part, felony categories are separated amongst numerical and alphabetical classes or degrees. Class A, Class 1, and first degree felonies typically bear punishment similarities, just like Class B, Class 2, and second degree felonies, and Class C, Class 3, and third degree felonies are fairly similar groupings. Often, capital punishment or murder felony charges will be placed in a category all their own.
In terms of Federal felony classifications, crimes are divided by Class A through Class E charges, with each holding a fine up to $250,000, depending, of course, on the severity of the crime and whether an offender has any prior criminal records. As a general rule, Federal punishments are often much harsher than felonies which are convicted on a State level.