Felony Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Felony, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Felony?

n. 1) A crime that is deemed serious enough to result in punishment by death or sentencing to a term in state or federal prison. Misdemeanors are only punishable by a term in county or local jail and/or fine. 2) Any crime that carries a minimum term of more than one year in state prison because a shorter term can be served in county jail. Also referred to a “high crimes,” felony convictions may be for less than a year if the judge decides to lower the sentence.

History and Meaning of Felony

The term "felony" originates from the Latin word "felonia," which means breach of faith or treachery. In Anglo-Saxon law, felonies were deemed to be the most serious crimes, punishable either by death, forfeiture of property, or imprisonment in the king's dungeon or penal servitude. The punishment for felony offenses is still severe today, typically involving imprisonment in a state or federal prison for a minimum of one year.

Examples of Felony

  1. Armed robbery - this involves the use of a deadly weapon during a robbery or theft, and carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
  2. Murder - murder charges can be either first, second or third degree which carry varying degrees of sentences in prison.
  3. Insider Trading - this white-collar crime involves the illegal use of non-public information to make trades, and can carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Legal Terms Similar to Felony

  1. Misdemeanor: less serious crimes that only carry sentences of up to one year in county or local jail and/or a fine.
  2. Capital Crime: a crime punishable by death, considered the most severe punishment.
  3. Infraction: minor violations of the law, punishable by fines but not jail time.