Under federal criminal law and the laws of about half of the states, a felony is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of a year or more. Other states define a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or a prison sentence served in a state penitentiary. Generally speaking, the most serious crimes, such as those that are either particularly heinous, involve dangerous weapons or threaten relatively high amounts of financial damage or harm to property, are classified as felonies.
- Examples of felonies include murder, treason, rape, arson, burglary and kidnapping.
- For federal felonies, defendants have the right to be charged only by a grand jury. This right varies for state felonies.
- Because of the seriousness of the offense and the punishment, maximum safeguards for the defendant's rights are built into the prosecution and court procedures.
- Indigent defendants who cannot afford to hire lawyers and are facing felony charges have the right to free state-appointed criminal defense attorneys.
- In addition to social stigma, long-term consequences may include the loss of the right to vote; ineligibility for elected office or professional licenses; restrictions on the right to possess weapons; ineligibility for housing, public benefits, educational benefits or certain jobs; immigration problems up to and including removal; loss of the right to serve as a juror; negative impact on parental rights or divorce proceedings; or the requirement to register with certain criminal registries.
- Persons accused of felonies have the right to jury trials.
A limited number of crimes, such as murder, can be punished by the death penalty. These crimes are often referred to as capital offenses.