In the United States there are two major classes of crimes: felony and misdemeanor. A felony is considered a more serious crime than a misdemeanor.

The penalties for a felony are steeper than those for a misdemeanor, i.e., more jail time, or even death. Plus, as noted above, the loss of certain rights (e.g., the right to vote) and privileges (e.g., being a police officer, or becoming an immigrant).

The person convicted of a felony is called felon.

It is interesting that the US immigration laws prohibit one from immigration only if he was convicted of a felony. He may have committed it and not been convicted, and thus be eligible for immigration.

For example, a woman may have been a prostitute in her country. While prostitution is a felony in many US states, if it was OK in her country, and thus she was not convicted for a felony there, she may be permitted to immigrate to the US even if she admits to having been a prostitute.

Fel"o*ny (?), n.; pl. Felonies (#). [OE. felonie cruelty, OF. felonie, F. f'elonie treachery, malice. See Felon, n.]

1. Feudal Law

An act on the part of the vassal which cost him his fee by forfeiture.


2. O. Eng. Law

An offense which occasions a total forfeiture either lands or goods, or both, at the common law, and to which capital or other punishment may be added, according to the degree of guilt.


A heinous crime; especially, a crime punishable by death or imprisonment.

Forfeiture for crime having been generally abolished in the United States, the term felony, in American law, has lost this point of distinction; and its meaning, where not fixed by statute, is somewhat vague and undefined; generally, however, it is used to denote an offense of a high grade, punishable either capitally or by a term of imprisonment. In Massachusetts, by statute, any crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison, and no other, is a felony; so in New York. the tendency now is to obliterate the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors; and this has been done partially in England, and completely in some of the States of the Union. The distinction is purely arbitrary, and its entire abolition is only a question of time.

There is no lawyer who would undertake to tell what a felony is, otherwise than by enumerating the various kinds of offenses which are so called. originally, the word felony had a meaning: it denoted all offenses the penalty of which included forfeiture of goods; but subsequent acts of Parliament have declared various offenses to be felonies, without enjoining that penalty, and have taken away the penalty from others, which continue, nevertheless, to be called felonies, insomuch that the acts so called have now no property whatever in common, save that of being unlawful and purnishable.

J. S. Mill.

To compound a felony

To compound a felony

. See under Compound, v. t.


© Webster 1913.

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