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In a common law legal system, a criminal case involving an individual accused of committing a serious crime may result in a felony conviction, if the defendant is found guilty. A felony conviction carries serious penalties that can include large fines, prison time, or worse. The severity of punishment generally increases with the seriousness of the crime.
A felony is the more serious of the two classifications of crimes used in most systems of justice. The other, less serious grade is known as a misdemeanor. The types of crimes that are classified as one or the other vary between jurisdictions, but there are a number of offenses are universally considered felonies. These include murder, manslaughter, rape, and operating a vehicle under the influence, among others.
During the criminal process, when an individual is charged with a felony, he may choose either to plead guilty or not guilty. If a guilty plea is entered, the defendant may then enter into what is known as plea bargaining with the prosecution. A plea bargain is effectively a negotiated felony conviction sentence that is typically less severe than what would be imposed following a guilty verdict by a jury. In cases where there is strong or obvious evidence against the accused, such as a written confession, prosecutors and defense lawyers often favor plea bargains because they offer benefits for both sides.
If the defendant chooses to plead not guilty, the case goes to trial. After deliberating the evidence and testimony, if the jury finds the defendant not guilty, he goes free. If the defendant is found guilty, however, he is subject to the penalties associated with a felony conviction.
Punishments stemming from a felony conviction vary depending on the type of offense, and the jurisdiction. It may be up to the judge or the jury to determine the fine or jail sentence, or there may a mandatory sentence written into law. Individuals who have received a felony conviction face other ancillary penalties in addition to what may be included in the actual sentence. These can include not being able to vote, own a handgun, or drive a vehicle for a certain period of time.
In addition, felony convictions appear on personal background checks, which can negatively impact employment opportunities. In this way, many advocacy groups claim ex-convicts are unjustly dismissed when applying for jobs, even years after paying their debt to society. These groups argue that this contributes to recidivism and rising prison populations. Opponents counter that a felony conviction should have penalties that linger after the initial punishment.