Most states in the United States classify crimes as either misdemeanors or felonies. Felonies are typically more serious infractions of the law than misdemeanors. Felons, or those who have been convicted of felonious crimes, automatically lose certain rights as United States citizens, regardless of the classification of the felony. Not every state has a class 1 felony designation, however, and the definition and penalties for a conviction vary from state to state.
A class 1 felony designation is typically the most serious felony in the states where this designation is used. For example, conviction for a crime in this class in Arizona can result in a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. In addition, the death penalty is an option if the crime committed was a murder. Punishment for such a crime committed in Virginia can be life in prison, the death penalty, and/or a fine up to $100,000 US Dollars (USD).
Serious felonies are also punished severely in states that do not have a "class 1 felony" designation. These states have different names for the same type of felony and subsequent punishment. For example, North Carolina's class A felony calls for life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Law in the United States is derived from English common law. In times gone by, the punishment for felonies in England included confiscating all of the convicted felon's assets, including any property that the felon may have owned. Other crimes were termed as misdemeanors.
Today in the US, a felony is a crime that is punished by a minimum of one year in jail. Misdemeanors are punished by less than one year, although in some states, a person who is convicted a "gross" or "aggravated" misdemeanor may also be sentenced to more than one year in prison. The difference is partly that the person who is convicted of a felony will lose rights that the person that was convicted of a gross or aggravated misdemeanor will retain.
These lost rights can include the right to vote, the right to become an elected official, and the right to buy firearms. In addition, convicted felons may not be able to become professionals such as lawyers or teachers or join any military forces. Convicted felons may find it difficult to travel abroad because many countries will not grant visas to those who have been convicted of serious crimes. Non-citizens are subject to deportation after serving their time.