The most serious crimes in American criminal law are categorized as "felonies," bringing with them a punishment of one year or more in prison (not a local jail), and in the most serious instances, the punishment of death. In fact, the easiest way to determine if a crime is a felony or misdemeanor is to check the punishment imposed. Possession of an illegal substance, for example, may or may not be a felony - the punishment depends upon the amount possessed.
The Lifetime Impact of a Felony Conviction
Felonies are life-altering in more ways than the time spent in prison. Employment can be difficult for those who have served their time on a felony conviction: many employers (especially large corporations) do not hire those with felonies on their criminal records. Felons may be tempted to omit the felony from their job application; however, doing so may result in their immediate termination if the employer finds out, and lying on the application will then prevent their ability to obtain unemployment benefits.
Felons will also be limited in the type of jobs they can hold. Convicted felons are not allowed to hold some professional positions which require state licensure, such as those involving law or education. Those convicted of sexually-related or drug-related felonies may be required to register as a sex offender or a narcotics offender, with their identity being posted in a public database. Their listing in this database may impact their ability to find employment, as well.
Felons cannot serve on juries in many jurisdictions. They are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military and they cannot legally own a gun.
The Three Strike Rule
For those defendants who face a second or third felony charge, felonies can mean life imprisonment even if the three charges, standing alone, are not the most serious of crimes. Most states have a "three strike" rule, where those with three felony convictions on their record can face life sentences as habitual criminals.
Crimes Considered to be Felonies
Crimes commonly considered to be felonies under both state and federal law include murder, arson, burglary, embezzlement, rape, grand theft, kidnapping, fraud, espionage, robbery, and racketeering.
Felonies will be charged under federal law, tried in a federal court, with prison time served in a federal prison, if the crime was committed against the U.S. government; the crime took place in more than one state (for example, a kidnapping); or involves special circumstances (e.g., espionage). Felonies will be charged, tried, and punishment imposed under state law if the crime occurred within that state and involved harm to either the state government or its citizens.
Not all felonies are the same: they are distinguished by degree, with violent crimes carrying more serious ranges of punishments than non-violent ones. In some states, they are ranked by class (A, B, C), and in other jurisdictions, they are distinguished by degree (first degree, second degree, etc.). For federal crimes, felonies are delineated by class pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3559, ranging from Class A (death penalty) to Class E (1-5 years imprisonment).
Felony Punishments and The Felony Murder Rule
Those who did not actually commit the felony crime, but helped the perpetrator either before or after it happened, may be considered just as responsible and face the same felony charge and corresponding punishment. For example, in both federal law and under the law of every state, felony murder occurs when there is a homicide during the commission of another felony, and carries with it a punishment of death. The death penalty in this instance may be imposed not only upon the defendant who pulled the trigger, but also upon a defendant who was merely a minor participant - if he/she exhibited an "extreme indifference to human life" during the crime. (This has come to be called the "felony murder rule.")
Rewards for the Location and Conviction of Felons
Rewards are sometimes offered to those who assist authorities in locating individuals suspected of serious felonies. The television show America's Most Wanted regularly televises crime stories where the perpetrator is at large, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation posts its Ten Most Wanted list online and in post office lobbies across the country. Rewards are set as high as $1 Million for Boston mobster James Bulger and $25 Million for Osama Bin Laden on the FBI's Most Wanted list.
The Department of Justice monitors crime statistics for both state and federal jurisdictions. Its recent analysis has found that federal drug felonies are continuing to increase, while violent crimes across the country have been steadily decreasing each year since 1994.
Over half the current prison population is made up of violent offenders, and since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), over half of those setting on Death Row are Caucasian.
The Firm has considerable experience in these matters in Northumberland County, Snyder County, Union County, Montour County, Lycoming County, Clinton County, Tiaoga County, Bradford County, Lycoming County, and throughout the state.
For More Information
- The Pennsylvania Code - Criminal Offenses
- Pennsylvania Felony Sentencing
- America's Most Wanted
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- 18 U.S.C. 3559 (Federal Classification of Felonies)