A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison.

Lawyer Advertising Toll Free Numbers

Additional Sources


Any grave crime, in contrast to a misdemeanor, that is so declared in statute or was so considered in common law. In early English law a felony was a heinous act that canceled the perpetrator's feudal rights and forfeited his lands and goods to the king, thus depriving his prospective heirs of their inheritance. The accused might be tried by an appeal of felony, i.e., personal combat with his accuser, the losing party to be adjudged a felon (see ordeal). The appeal of felony was gradually replaced by rational modes of trial and was altogether abolished in England in 1819. In addition to the forfeiture of his property, the convicted felon usually suffered death, long imprisonment, or banishment. Death was an especially common English penalty in the 18th and the early 19th cent. To the list of common-law felonies-including murder, rape, theft, arson, and suicide-many others were added by statute. With the abolition of forfeitures in England in 1870 the felony acquired essentially its modern character. Felony is used in various senses in the United States. In federal law, any crime punishable by death or more than one year's imprisonment is a felony. This definition is followed in some states; in others the common-law definition is retained, or else statutes specifically label certain crimes as felonies. Other possible consequences of committing a felony are loss of the rights of citizenship, deportation if the felon is an alien, and liability to a more severe sentence for successive offenses. Felonies are usually tried by jury, and in some states the accused must first have been indicted by a grand jury.

Duhaime Legal Dictionary

A serious crime for which the traditional punishment is prison for more than a year or death.

Encyclopedia Britannica

In Anglo-American law, classification of criminal offenses according to the seriousness of the crime.

U.S. jurisdictions generally distinguish between felonies and misdemeanours. A class of minor offenses that may be described as petty offenses or quasi-crimes is also recognized. These last offenses are created by local ordinance, and the requirement of trial by jury does not apply.

In U.S. law, the classification of a crime as a felony or misdemeanour is ordinarily determined by the penalties attached to the offense. A felony is typically defined as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one year. Misdemeanours are often defined as offenses punishable only by fines or by short terms of imprisonment in local jails. A consequence of commission or conviction of a felony rather than a misdemeanour is that the offender may lose some of his civil rights.

Law.com Dictionary

1) a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison, as distinguished from a misdemeanor which is only punishable by confinement to county or local jail and/or a fine. 2) a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison, since a year or less can be served in county jail. However, a sentence upon conviction for a felony may sometimes be less than one year at the discretion of the judge and within limits set by statute. Felonies are sometimes referred to as "high crimes" as described in the U.S. Constitution.


A crime that has a greater punishment imposed by statute than that imposed on a misdemeanor.

Lect Law Library

One of several grave crimes, such as murder, rape, or burglary, punishable by a more stringent sentence than that given for a misdemeanor; an offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year.


A severe crime generally punishable either by death or imprisonment. The term distinguishes such crimes from lesser crimes called misdemeanors.

Merriam Webster

A grave crime formerly differing from a misdemeanor under English common law by involving forfeiture in addition to any other punishment b : a grave crime declared to be a felony by the common law or by statute regardless of the punishment actually imposed c : a crime declared a felony by statute because of the punishment imposed d : a crime for which the punishment in federal law may be death or imprisonment for more than one year

The Free (Legal) Dictionary

A serious crime, characterized under federal law and many state statutes as any offense punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year.


A felony is a serious crime in the United States and previously other common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors. Most common law countries have now abolished the felony/misdemeanor distinction and replaced it with other distinctions such as between summary offences and indictable offences.

In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the Federal government defines a felony as a crime which involves a potential punishment of one year or longer in prison.