What is a Felony?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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If a person is convicted of a crime for which the punishment is a year or more in prison or death, he or she has committed a felony. In the United States, people who commit the most serious crimes, such as murder, armed robbery, or rape, are called felons. In some cases, the crime may only become a felony if a certain amount of money is stolen; if the defendant can be found guilty of possessing criminal intent; or if someone dies while a crime, such as a home invasion, is being committed. In addition, sometimes a crime is only considered a felony if the defendant is taken to prison or to the penitentiary. If the defendant is taken to jail, the crime may be considered a misdemeanor instead.

A felony is the most serious form of crime in the United States; however, in other countries, the terminology is no longer used. For example, in 1967, the terms felony and its counterpart, misdemeanor, were abolished in England and the other countries of the Commonwealth. In Canada, the term indictable offense is used instead. In addition, those found guilty of the more serious crimes are prosecuted in Canada’s federal courts, rather than provincial courts, as well. The term felony is still used in Hungary, Turkey, Kenya, and Fiji.


If a person is found guilty of committing a felony, he or she will have stricter restrictions on his or her lifestyle than a person found guilty of committing a lesser crime. For example, in some jurisdictions, a person convicted of a felony may not serve on a jury or vote. In other jurisdictions, a felon may not be employed as a teacher, doctor, or caregiver. In addition, felons may not legally own a gun. If the person is convicted of a sex crime or other violent crime, many jurisdictions require that the felon register as an offender.

People who have been convicted of a felony in the United States will find that they will not be able to travel freely to other countries. For example, someone with a criminal record may find that he or she is prevented from entering Canada without a special waiver. In addition, Qatar requires that foreign travelers produce a police certificate that shows they have a clean criminal record before they can enter the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina have similar practices for foreigners wanting to extend their stay.

In some places, such as California, there are laws that require people who have been previously convicted of a felon to serve a longer prison sentence, if he or she commits three felonies. It is called the three strikes rule. Depending on the jurisdiction, there are many different permutations of this law. A good criminal law attorney will be able to explain the law to those people interested in learning more about it in their area.


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Discuss this Article

Post 9

What about medical school for felons, assuming that it's not murder or something?

Post 8

My son has a split sentence of five years probation and five years prison time. He was out and violated probation with a possession charge of cocaine (personal use). The prosecutor is saying 51 months. Can the attorney do this? The new chg is not even equivalent to the old charge of burglary! What are his options?

Post 7

If I had a class C felony over ten years ago in another state, would I be able to purchase a firearm in the state of Wisconsin? And if not, is it possible to get this removed from my record?

Post 6

I committed a fraud felony 20 years ago in California state, for many bounced checks and it was a bad time in my life and I was convicted bu the court and then I went to Europe.

I would like to know if my felony is still in effect after 20 years? Could somebody help me in this matter.

Post 5

Yes, it will appear in a background check regardless of whether you have been formally convicted or not. Pending court charges will show up. I happen to find this fact insane due to the fact that charges in an open court case still have the potential to be dismissed. Unless the pending/potential charges were in reference to something that the public should be informed about (rape...). this should not happen but it does. I would only put in applications to employers during this time. Save the apps for vice president of the company until your case has been resolved.

Post 4

Can anyone please answer my question. i had one felony in my name but I was not convicted on it and i am still looking for the court dates. i got a job at a software company. Does that appear when they do a background check and will the company reject me if they find out? Can anyone please answer this question, please?

Post 3

@purplespark: Unfortunately, you are in a position to have to air your dirty laundry.

The best thing to do is answer "yes" and then write out beside that "I would like the opportunity to explain".

Many employers will overlook the fact that you had a felony, especially since it wasn't a drug charge or a violent crime.

As hard as it is, you need to go in there and hold your head up. Explain to them that you were going through a rough time and that you made some bad choices. Affirm that all of that is in the past.

Post 2

@purplespark: My brother also had a felony a couple of years ago. He had the same problem with employment.

On one application, he answered "no" to the felony question. He got called in for an interview. Apparently, they did a background check and saw that he did have a felony. The manager told him that he would have hired him if he had been honest.

Post 1

Three years ago, I was convicted of a felony (possession of a forged instrument). It has made it very difficult for me to find employment.

Every application asks "have you ever been convicted of a felony?" I think that as soon as they see that my answer is yes, my application gets passed over.

Should I just start answering "no"? Any suggestions?

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