Felonies are deemed the most serious class of offense throughout the United States. Many jurisdictions separate felonies into their own distinct classes so that a repeat offender convicted of committing a felony in a heinous fashion receives a more severe punishment than a first-time offender convicted of committing a felony in a comparatively less hateful, cruel, or injurious fashion.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, felonies are generally punishable by a fine, imprisonment for more than a year, or both. At common law, felonies were crimes that typically involved moral turpitude, or offenses that violated the moral standards of the community.
Immigration Consequences of Felonies
From an immigration standpoint, U.S. alien-residents with work permits and those applying for citizenship should be aware that felonies of moral turpitude are grounds for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to deport resident aliens to their country of origin.
The reasoning behind this immigration policy is that many crimes classified as felonies are considered offensive to the moral standards in most American communities. These crimes include terrorism, treason, arson, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and kidnapping, among others.
Three Strikes Law
In approximately half the U.S. states, habitual felony offenders are punished under a "Three Strikes Law," which imposes geometrically harsher sentences on people convicted of offenses when they have been previously convicted of two prior serious criminal offenses. These laws are designed to incapacitate those more likely to commit crimes.
Most notably, Three Strikes Laws make it illegal for state court judges to sentence persons convicted of a felony who have previously been convicted of two or more violent crimes to a punishment other than a life sentence. Opponents of Three Strikes Laws often argue that 3-Strikes laws are a draconian violation of the 8th Amendment and a violation of Due Process.
While some of these opponents posit the principle that "a person's 3rd strike can be theft of a slice of pizza," each state with a Three Strikes Law has a safety-valve provision allowing a judge to impose a probationary sentence when the instant crime is otherwise "de minimus," or trivial. Other opponents of Three Strikes focus on the idea that American society has more resources invested in incarcerating offenders than educating and rehabilitating them, thereby creating and endorsing a permanent underclass of incarcerated Americans.
Felonies Further Defined
In many state penal codes, a felony is defined not only by the length of incarceration but also by the place of incarceration. For example, crimes that are punishable by incarceration in a state prison are deemed felonies in a number of states, while crimes that are punishable only by incarceration in a local jail are deemed misdemeanors. For crimes that may be punishable by incarceration in either a local jail or a state prison, the crime will normally be classified according to where the defendant actually serves the sentence
Charged with a Felony? Talk to an Attorney
The consequences of a felony can be so severe that you must carefully weigh every move you make in your own defense. No individual defendant can be expected to understand the full ramifications of every charge and every defense to a criminal case without a good criminal defense attorney. So if you're being investigated for a crime, or you've already been charged, it's in your best interests to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area.