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What is a Felony Conviction?

By Mike Howells
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon328114 — On Apr 01, 2013

Moses was a murderer; he killed an Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Paul was an accomplice to murder; he held someone's coat while they stoned Stephen to death. If God can give those men a second chance, and use them, who are you to say that anyone is beyond redemption?

By the way, it should be "wary" of hiring someone, not "weary".

By anon323747 — On Mar 06, 2013

Committing the crime of adultery is a sin, but yet it is not a crime in our justice system. Some people like GenevaMech have stringent views and have no mercy for people who have made a mistake in their lives.

Most people are not criminals. They just made a bad choice. This society we live in doesn't believe in reform and just wants to oppress and judge people, but at the same time, we have people sinning all over the place and they get away with their sins.

Lust is a sin. Sloth is a sin. Fornication is a sin. Why can't people pay the penalty for those crimes? Why can't the judicial system forgive someone who commits a crime like Jesus Christ forgave everyone for their sins? This government judicial system is a joke and as long as there is no way for this judicial system to remove the burden of a conviction imposed on a person, this out of touch society will continue rejecting a person who committed a crime and recidivism amongst offenders will continue.

The more offenses a person commits, the more money the judicial system makes. It's a dirty business. Corrections? Give me a break!

By anon318291 — On Feb 06, 2013

I feel that the person that had a felony and served his time deserves to have a job. Do people want that person to live off the government's money? If they don't work, they don't eat. No one is judge or jury to condemn anyone here on this earth. That is God's job.

By anon285128 — On Aug 14, 2012

@GenevaMech: Some felons do turn their lives around. I have worked in the prison system for 25 years and yes, I have seen them come and go. How do you expect these felons to take care of themselves if we have people who think a person's crime should haunt them for the rest of their lives? I believe if you have committed a very serious crime then yes, you should pay your time to society. We should all look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we can change in our lives we are playing judge and jury, but our God has the last say so.

By anon241359 — On Jan 18, 2012

A felony for a young person could ruin their life. What if they were set up and didn't realize what was going on at the time? They're a young adult, with a minor(soon to be adult). The minor committed the crime, because s/he got inside info on how to commit the crime. The adult was trying to better her/himself and can't because they have a felony holding them back (joining the military). The chief of police lied to the parents of the young adult, a police officer saying she didn't want to be suspended to court (even though she knows the truth).

And because of the felonies, the young adult now has to take what s/he can get to try and prove her/himself. Also, The chief of police tells the young adult he hates her/him. To add to that, the parents of the young adult sees the chief of police at the local liquor store with his underage son. The son gives the chief money to buy liquor for him.

I disagree completely with anyone who thinks a person who had felony charges should not get a second chance. No one is perfect, and for one felony to ruin your life, well, I have my opinion and you have yours.

By anon155073 — On Feb 22, 2011

well how about this? i believe that yes, if it is a heinous offense such as murder or burglary, but as far as other such felonies, it is ridiculous.

i do agree that anything else should affect employment after the debt was paid to society. which is why they are trying to make a background check optional to be hired for a job because it doesn't give the reason for the felony -- it just says there is one.

now as far as people who plead guilty to something they do wrong and are willing to pay for the offense, then yes, the felony should be taken off the record as soon as that restitution is paid, which is my opinion. I don't think that it should stay on your record forever. If we did that we would be like all the backward countries in the world. I'm sorry, but everyone commits a crime every day. Shoplifting, for example. That's my opinion on the whole situation.

By cougars — On Feb 04, 2011

@ GenevaMech- I would have to agree with Babalaas. I have been the victim of crimes, and I know people who have been convicted of crimes. Some of my friends who have been caught on the wrong side of the law have better moral character than those who stay within the bounds of the law.

I am a strong believer in a second chance. Most of the times, you do not know the extenuating circumstances that lead to a criminal act. People make mistakes and have lapses of judgment. The judicial system is also not made up of saints. People with power are just as capable of making decisions based on greed, hate, and any other human emotion/vice. A felony conviction record should not prevent a person from doing god and contributing to society.

By Babalaas — On Feb 03, 2011

@ GenevaMech- Where is your compassion? What you are saying implies that our largely privatized legal system is the absolute authority over a person and their moral character. Your argument also assumes that people never change. This is a ridiculous assumption since the world is constantly changing around you. Finally, your opinion makes a statement that someone convicted of a felony should be stigmatized as a criminal long after they have paid their debt to society.

You wouldn't rub a dogs nose in its feces for year after it soiled your carpet. You wouldn't yell at a child or send him or her to tie out months after s/he committed a bratty offense. Why would you want to continually punish someone years after they stepped outside the bounds of society, especially after they have admitted their guilt and paid their societal dues. No disrespect intended, but a collective society with your mindset make being a criminal for life, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By GenevaMech — On Jan 31, 2011

Why does it matter if an employer doesn't want to hire a felon? If I were a hiring manager, I would be weary of hiring someone convicted of a felony regardless of how long it has been. I wouldn't want someone to work for me who is a criminal. I hate the argument surrounding this because I believe that if you commit a crime, it should be with you forever.

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