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What Is a Federal Felony?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A federal felony is category of crime that involves breaking a law at the national rather than local level. When a federal law is broken, the case is tried at that level, and a convicted person will typically serve time in the national prison system. A federal felony is often a more serious crime than a misdemeanor, and potential punishments usually reflect this. Some types of federal felonies include aggravated assault, grand theft, arson, and murder. In civil law countries, terms such as crime or delict are typically used instead of felony.

Common law countries with federal governments, such as the United States, have laws at both state and local levels. Federal laws stem from national legislation, and state laws come from local legislation. A federal felony is a crime that breaks a national law or is otherwise governed by federal jurisdiction. The distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony can differ between various common law countries, though the United States defines it as being a crime that is punishable by one year or more of incarceration. Some federal felonies also carry the potential for fines or even the death penalty.

Federal felonies can be classified as being violent or nonviolent in nature. Violent felonies are crimes that involve actions that either harm or could harm another person. A violent federal felony can directly harm someone, such as aggravated battery or murder, or accidentally harm someone, such as arson. Nonviolent felonies are typically property or drug related. A large source of federal felonies relate to the manufacture and trafficking of drugs.

Many crimes that could potentially be tried at a state level are considered federal felonies if they occur on federal land. If an assault or murder happens on land that is owned by the federal government, it will typically be outside state jurisdiction. Other crimes, such as tax evasion or mail fraud, can also result in federal felony charges, since these actions can be in violation of federal law.

It is also typically a felony to lie to a federal agent, such an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations or a Federal Marshal in the United States. Since this involves the federal government, it will typically be tried in a federal court and may result in prison time and forfeiture of civil rights. Federal felons in the United States typically give up the rights to vote, own a firearm, and receive any type of government welfare.

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