A felony is the most serious type of crime that can be committed. Felony classes are decided by each state according to the magnitude of the crime that has been committed, so laws vary on a state by state basis. Similarly, the punishments vary on a state by state basis depending on the felony class.
What Is a Felony?
Generally speaking, these crimes involve physical or financial harm, many of which carry a prison term of one year or more. Not all people convicted of a felony receive prison time, but most do. It’s worth noting that most states differentiate jail and prison.
Generally speaking, jail involves incarceration in a local facility whereas prison refers to incarceration in a state-run or private system. Depending upon the jurisdiction and length of sentence, some people convicted of a felony serve time in jail while others are sent to prison.
Examples of crimes considered to be a felony include, but are not limited to:
- Drug dealing
- Tax evasion
Typically, people convicted of these crimes are sentenced to imprisonment of a year or more. However, depending on the case and a defendant’s criminal history, some may be required to complete court-supervised probation and pay a fine. The punishment for a felony depends on how the state classifies the felony.
What Are the Different Felony Classes?
Individual states classify felonies differently, though similarities may exist.
Federal felonies, on the other hand, are more uniformly divided into classifications ranging from Class A to Class E felonies, but more on that later. Most states classify felonies by letter or number; however, some states like Wyoming, California, and Georgia do not. These states classify felonies strictly by the individual crime that was committed.
For example, A Class A felony in Alabama may net a sentence of 10 years or more. For the same crime in California, a judge may consider four years in jail an appropriate punishment based on the nuances of the case.
States with letter or number degree felonies:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
States and districts which give more consideration to the individual crime committed instead of classification include:
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
The following states have a different classification system altogether and should be reviewed independently on their website or through direct contact with the appropriate state office:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
Examples of Numerical Felony Classes
States with numbered felony degrees differ in how each felony is defined. The following is an example of how that system is classified in the state of Arizona:
Class 1 – Felonies in this class involve first or second-degree. A conviction for a Class 1 felony in that state carries a sentence of 16 years to life in prison.
Class 2 – Examples of Class 2 felonies include several crimes, such as human trafficking, kidnapping, and arson. Punishment for a Class 2 felony can be a prison sentence of five to 12.5 years.
Class 3 – An example of a Class 3 felony is marijuana cultivation. Also, possession of more than four pounds of marijuana falls into this classification. Class 3 felony convictions can lead to three and a half years in prison or eight years and nine months, depending on the specifics involved in an individual case.
Class 4 – Felonies in the Class 4 category mostly relate to types of theft. Convictions can result in between two and a half years to three years and nine months in prison, depending upon the value of the property stolen.
Class 5 – Class 5 felonies involve crimes such as solicitation and pimping. People convicted of these crimes may face between two to two and a half years in prison.
Class 6 – Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, resisting arrest, and marijuana possession (under four pounds) are examples of Class 6 felonies. Considered the least serious of all classes, it is not unusual for Class 6 felonies to be reduced to misdemeanors in most states and sentenced accordingly. For those that are not reduced, sentencing can range from one to two years in prison.
Examples of Lettered Felony Classes
Using the state of Maine as an example of lettered felony classes, here are examples of each one:
Class A – The sexual battery of a child would be considered a Class A felony. Individuals convicted of such a crime can expect to spend as many as 30 years in prison and be responsible for a fine of no more than $50,000.
Class B – Assault with a deadly weapon is an example of a Class B felony. Persons convicted of a Class B crime may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and receive a fine of up to $20,000.
Class C – Depending on its value, property theft may be considered a Class C felony. Crimes in this category carry punishments of up to five years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
While felony classes vary according to the state where a crime was committed, most are divided between violent and nonviolent crimes, as well as the amount of damage caused to the injured party in cases of financial harm.
Federal Felony Classes
State felony classifications will vary, but federal felony classes are always the same. Variation on federal felonies by way of a grid used to cross-reference a convicted person’s criminal history with one of 43 predesignated levels of offense. Criminal histories are divided into six categories and sentencing is administered according to where an individual’s history intersects with one of the offense levels mapped out on the grid.
Where to Find State-by-State Information on Felony Classes
At the state level, there is no one definition or guide for felony classes that will apply to every state. Each jurisdiction operates differently – even if it’s only slightly. To understand your state’s classification system, you’ll need to visit that state’s official website or to contact an attorney in that state for additional guidance or questions.
More Information on Felony Classes
To learn more about felony classes at the state and federal level, please visit our article archives. In addition to information on felony classifications, we recommend our articles related to felony convictions.
As felony convictions can carry many life-altering consequences beyond incarceration, fines, and probation, we highly recommend our articles relating to what one might expect once convicted. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge in any felony class, we strongly recommend contacting an attorney who is well-versed in criminal law. While courts will appoint an attorney for those who cannot afford one on their own, we also offer a list of free and low-cost legal services on our site.