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In the U.S., a criminal act can usually be grouped into one of two legal categories — misdemeanor or felony. A felony crime is punishable by more than one year in prison. A capital felony is the most serious designation. Examples of felony offenses include aggravated manslaughter, arson that results in injury or death, some kidnapping charges, and aggravated sexual assault. Theft that exceeds $200,000 US Dollars (USD) and drug trafficking offenses can usually be classified as felony 1 crimes as well.
Aggravated manslaughter committed against a person under the age of 18 years old, an elderly or disabled individual, or a public servant — such as a member of law enforcement, paramedic, or a firefighter — is a felony 1 crime. Different than capital murder, which is generally a premeditated act of violence, this is usually caused by the negligent act of another, with willful disregard of the law. Not all manslaughter charges result in a felony 1 charge, however.
Arson, the act of purposely setting a structure on fire, can sometimes be classified as a felony 1 offense. If the act causes serious injury or death, or in cases where the offender is aware that a building is occupied when setting fire to it, the arsonist can be charged with the more a serious felony distinction. Some cases of arson, however, are charged with lesser degrees, known as misdemeanors.
Kidnapping is the act of unlawfully restraining someone, or secretly taking an individual by force. Aggravating circumstances combined with kidnapping charges, such as when an abducted child is under the age of 13, usually constitute a felony 1 crime. False imprisonment combined with sexual crimes can also fall into this category, regardless of the victim’s age.
Aiding and abetting a person in committing an illegal act is also a crime. The person who physically committed the offense is usually the only one who can be charged with felony 1, however. Principles of the crime, or accessories, are often convicted of a lesser charge. For example, the driver of a getaway car in an armed robbery would most likely be charged with felony 2.
A conviction of a felony 1 crime can result in up to 30 years in prison. If additional counts are associated with the original crime, the prison sentence can be much longer. Certain aggravating circumstances can increase a sentence to last up to a lifetime in prison. Also, fines up to $10,000 USD can be assessed.
A person who has been convicted of a felony crime is called a felon. As such, the individual loses many of his or her civil rights, even after the sentence has been served. The right to vote, own a gun, or obtain a visa is usually revoked. Additionally, he or she would no longer be eligible to serve on a jury or run for public office. A convicted felon retains this designation unless his or her rights are restored by court order.
In a lot of states, the felonies are given letter designations rather than numbers. In Alabama, felony 1 would be a "Class A" felony, which I think is a better description, since a Class A felony would cover murder in the first and second degrees.
Sometimes, the classification of particular felonies puzzles me. I think if some crimes that are currently a lesser class felony were Class A or B felonies, it might deter some people. Well, maybe, anyway.
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