The law classifies crimes differently on the basis of their severity. An infraction is the mildest form of a crime, while slightly more serious crimes are termed as misdemeanors in legal parlance. In Florida, crimes that are most serious or heinous in nature are known as felonies. How a crime is classified determines how the criminal charges in that case will be pursued.
A felony is classified as an offense of the most serious nature under all jurisdictions in the U.S. However, different jurisdictions segregate felonies into their own separate classes. Therefore, a repeat offender who is convicted of having committed a felony in an extremely heinous manner is likely to receive a harsher punishment than a first-time criminal convicted of having committed a felony in less heinous or less cruel manner.
Types of Felonies
The quantum of punishment in case a felony will vary according to the degree of the crime and the circumstances surrounding it. In the eyes of the common law, felonies were viewed as crimes that typically violated the society’s moral standards or involved abject moral degradation.
Today, however, many crimes that are still viewed as a violation of the society’s moral standards are classified as felonies. Such crimes include treason, terrorism, rape, murder, arson, robbery and kidnapping.
Capital Felony Classification
A defendant charged with an offense of capital felony is entitled to have his or her case heard by a twelve-member jury that must give a unanimous verdict on the issue of guilt. A defendant charged with an offense of non-capital felony or misdemeanor may have his or her case heard by a jury of at least six members. The jury may reach a verdict without being unanimous, under certain jurisdictions in case of a non-capital felony or misdemeanor.
A felony is punishable by a prison term of more than one year. However, a felony conviction can also result in probation, fines, and court costs instead of or in addition to prison time.
Examples of criminal offenses that are classified as a Felony include: Manslaughter, DUI Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury or Death, Grand Theft, Possession of Cocaine or Prescription Medication, Delivery of Drugs, White Collar Crime, Fraud, Battery on a Police Officer, Murder, Homicide and Sex Crimes.
Florida law recognizes five different classes of felonies. The least severe are third degree felonies. A conviction for a third degree felony can result in a prison term of up to five years. Convicts serve sentences over one year in the Florida state prison system rather than the Broward County jail. Some crimes that are classified as felonies may come as a surprise: certain forms of hazing on a college campus, for instance, are classified as a third-degree felony.
Second degree felonies are punishable by up to 15 years in a state prison. These crimes are considered quite severe. Aggravated battery, for instance, can be charged as a second degree felony. Less severe cases of battery may only be charged as misdemeanors, punishable by no more than one year in jail. If the defendant used a deadly weapon or purposely inflicted serious harm, the charge will be elevated to aggravated battery. Your criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate with the prosecutors to have your charge reduced, to drop the charges, or to arrange a favorable plea bargain. In some instances, depending on the circumstances of your case, your criminal defense attorney may be able to help you win a ‘not guilty’ verdict.
First degree felonies are extremely serious and could result in a prison term of up to 30 years. In some cases, the law may allow for even longer sentences. Trafficking in cocaine is a first degree felony in the state of Florida. The law provides specific periods of imprisonment along with fines. For instance, trafficking cocaine in Florida in an amount between 400 grams and 150 kilograms will likely result in a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years and a fine of $250,000.
Life felonies are those crimes which can result in a sentence of life in prison. In some cases, the maximum penalty is between 25 years to life in prison, with the time after release on parole or probation. Sexual battery on a victim over the age of 12, when committed with physical force or with the threat of a deadly weapon, is classified as a life felony in Florida.
Finally, capital crimes are those in which the state of Florida can seek the death penalty. These are typically murder trials. Although Florida is one of a few states with a law allowing for the death penalty for certain child sex crimes, it has not been used in practice in many years. Even if the state wanted to execute a child rapist, it would be unable to do so, as the United States Supreme Court ruled earlier this year it violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.