A felony offense is a level of crime that is considered the most serious of the offenses. In criminal law, there are two major divisions of crime: misdemeanors and felonies. Both of these divisions are often broken down into other levels. For example, a Class 1 felony or a Class A felony, is often the worst type of felony offense in a jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions may have more divisions of felonies than others.
Despite being considered the more serious crime, a felony offense is adjudicated in the same way as any other crime. The accused individual, known as the defendant, has the opportunity to ask for a jury trial in many countries. There, the prosecution will present evidence that it asserts will prove the defendant committed the crime. If the jury believes the prosecutor has sufficient evidence, then a conviction is handed down.
While the punishment for a felony offense is often harsher than that of a misdemeanor, the burden of proof remains the same. A prosecuting attorney is not held to any higher level of evidence when prosecuting for a felony as compared to a misdemeanor. In many countries, the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.
In most cases, the technical minimum punishment for a felony offense is two years in a state prison. In actuality, that punishment may not be as severe. Some offenders, once convicted, will get credit for time served in a local jail, and others may get time off for doing work and good behavior. Judges may also have the ability to offer the offender a suspended sentence, which would not have to be served at all unless the offender broke more laws or failed to follow the conditions of his or her release.
While it may seem like committing a felony means a straight ticket to prison, less than half of those who commit felonies actually end up in prison in the United States. That is because of other programs designed to help and rehabilitate offenders. Furthermore, the cost of incarcerating an offender often encourages jurisdictions to try other solutions before resorting to a long-term prison sentence.
Many defendants are willing to plead a case down from a felony offense to a misdemeanor simply because they do not want the felony on their record. Felonies often make it harder to obtain employment. Additionally, multiple felonies, especially if they are violent crimes, can lead to much harsher penalties. Therefore, many defendants are willing to admit some level of guilt and not go through a trial if the prosecutor is willing to agree to a lower level of offense.