Felony – a serious crime usually punished by more than one year in prison, or death

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n. (14c)

1. A serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by death.  *  Examples include burglary, arson, rape, and murder. — aka major crime; serious crime.  [1]

1. A generic term for certain high crimes, such as murder, treason, robbery, and larceny, for the purpose of distinguishing them from minor offenses known as misdemeanors. 13 Am J2d Burgl § 36. An offense punishable by death, or by the imprisonment in a state prison or penitentiary. Briggs v Board of County Comrs. 202 Okla 684, 217 P2d 827, 20 ALR2d 727. Such a serious offense as was formerly punishable by death or by forfeiture of lands or goods. Bannon v United States, 156 US 464, 39 L Ed 494, 15 S Ct 467.

Within the meaning of a statute which provides that a homicide committed in the perpetration of a felony is murder, a “felony” is an act punishable either capitally or by imprisonment in state prison, whether the act is one proscribed by the common law or by statute. 26 Am J1st Homi § 39. [2]

1. A general term for more serious crimes (EXAMPLES: murder; robbery; larceny), as distinguished from lesser offenses, which are known as misdemeanors.  In many jurisdictions, felonies are crimes for which the punishment is death or more than one year of imprisonment.  Persons convicted of felonies are generally incarcerated in prisons or penitentiaries, as opposed to local jails. [3]

     Excerpt from William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1769):

     “Felony, in the general acceptation of our English law, comprises every species of crime, which occasioned at common law the forfeiture of lands or goods. [4]

     Excerpt from J.W. Cecil Turner’s Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law (16th ed. 1952):

     “Amongst indictable crimes, the common law singled out some as being so conspicuously heinous that a man adjudged guilty of any of them incurred — not as any express part of his sentence but as a consequence that necessarily ensued upon it -a forfeiture of property, whether of his lands or of his goods or of both (in the case of treason).  Such crimes came to be called ‘felonies.’  The other, and lesser, crimes were known as ‘transgressions’ or ‘trespasses,’ and did not obtain their present name of misdemeanours until a much later date.  A felony is, therefore, a crime which either involved by common law such a forfeiture, or else has been placed by statute on the footing of those crimes which did involve it. [5]

felonious restraint (1971) 1. The offense of knowingly and unlawfully restraining a person under circumstances that expose the person to serious bodily harm.  Model Penal Code § 212.2(a)2. The offense of holding a person in involuntary servitude.  Model Penal Code § 212.2(b).

atrocious felony (1814) Archaic. A serious, usually cruel felony involving personal violence.  *  The common practice today is to refer to the specific type of crime alleged (e.g., first-degree murder or aggravated sexual assault).

serious felony (1874) A major felony, such as burglary of a residence or an assault that causes great bodily injury.  *  In many jurisdictions, a defendant’s prior serious felony convictions can be used to enhance another criminal charge.

substantive felony (18c) A crime that is complete in itself and is not dependent on another crime for one of its elements. — aka substantive crime; substantive offense. [2]

treason felony See TREASON FELONY.

violent felony (1965) A crime characterized by extreme physical force, such as murder, forcible rape, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. — Abbr. VF (violent felony); VFO (violent felony offense). — aka violent offense; violent felony offense..  2. Hist. At common law, an offense for which conviction results in forfeiture of the defendant’s lands or goods (or both) to the Crown, regardless of whether any capital or other punishment is mandated.  *  At early common law, the term felony included any offense for which a defendant who fled before trial could be summarily convicted, attainted, and outlawed, or that carried a right of appeal after conviction.  Although treason carried the same penalties as a common-law felony, it was usu. defined as a separate class of crime.  3. Hist. Feudal law. A grave act that resulted in the forfeiture of land granted by a superior.


felony hearing See PRELIMINARY HEARING.

felony injury to a child (1990) The act of causing or allowing a child to suffer in circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death, or inflicting unjustifiable pain or mental suffering in those circumstances.

felony-merger doctrine (1965) Hist. The common-law rule that when an act constitutes both a private tort and a criminal felony, the tort is subsumed into the felony and no private legal action is permitted.


felony offense (1917) FELONY.  *  The phrase felony offense is a redundancy, since felony alone denotes the offense. [1]

felon – One who has been convicted of a felony and whose disabilities arising from such conviction have not been removed. An infection of finger or toe extruding pus and very painful. 29A Am J Rev ed Ins § 1173. [2]

1. A person who has been convicted of a felony. [3]

felonia – A felony.

feloniae, per quas vasallas amitteret feudum – Felonies through which a vassal‘ would lose his fee. See 2 Bl Comm 284.

Felonia, ex vi termini, significat quodlibet capitale crimen felleo animo perpetratum – Felony, by the force of the term, signities any capital crime perpetrated with felonious intent.

Felonia implicatur in qualibet proditione – Felony is implied in every treason.

felonice – Feloniously.  An allegation that the criminal act was committed “feloniously” or “felonice,” was a vital formality in every indictment charging the commission of a felony. See 4 Bl Comm 307.

Felonice abduxit unum equum – He feloniously led away one horse.

felonice cepit – He feloniously took.

felonious – Having the quality of a felony; malignant; malicious; villainous; perfidious; in a legal sense, done with intent to commit a crime. State v Bush, 47 Kan 201, 207. [2]

1. A legal term meaning done with the intent to commit a crime, that is, with criminal intent. See felonious intent. 2. Having the quality of a felony. EXAMPLE: felonious assault. 3. Unlawful; wrongful. 4. Malicious; evil; treacherous. [3]


felonious intent – The intent to commit a felony.  As an element of the crime of larceny — an absence of color, of right or excuse for the act, combined with an intent to deprive the owner permanently of his property, sometimes including an element of concealment. 32 Am J1st Larc § 36.
It is not sufficient in an indictment for burglary, to charge simply intent to commit a felony; the particular felony intended must be specified. 13 Am J2d Burgl § 36.

1. The intent to commit a felony. See criminal intent. 2. As an element of the crime of larceny, the taking and carrying away of another person’s property without his consent, or without right or excuse, combined with an intent to deprive him of that property permanently. [3]

feloniously – Acting with intent to commit a felony or to do that which constitutes a felony under the law even perhaps without knowledge of the legal effect. Acting with an evil heart or purpose. State v Clark, 83 Vt 305, 75 A 534. A technical, but in many jurisdictions an essential, word in an indictment charging a felony, at least where the offense is a felony at common law. 27 Am J1st Indict § 67. [2]

1. Doing a felonious act.  2. Acting with intent to commit a felony. [3]

feloniously and burglariously – A conventional expression in an indictment for burglary employed in charging an intent to commit a felony. State v Wiley, 173 Md 119, 194 A 629, 113 ALR 1267. [2]

felonious assault – An assault that is a felony (EXAMPLE: aggravated assault), as opposed to an assault that is a misdemeanor (EXAMPLE: simple assault). [3]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 94 (1769).

[5]: J.W. Cecil Turner, Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law 93 (16th ed. 1952).


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