When most of us hear or come across the term ‘felony,’ we think of hefty fines, lengthy prison sentences, and a permanent record that may make life hard or even impossible. While a conviction for a felony is not something you would wish to have on your criminal record, there are several types of felonies in the real sense, some of which are more severe than others. Understanding the different types of felonies after a conviction or arrest can help you know your rights and what to expect for your situation. In this blog, we explain the various felony offenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia and how we can help you overcome charges.
How Types of Felonies Are Determined
Generally, felonies are more severe crimes than misdemeanor offenses. The maximum incarceration period a misdemeanor offender can face upon a conviction is one year in jail. Sometimes misdemeanor offenders do not face incarceration at all. On the other hand, the consequences of a felony conviction include several years in prison or sometimes life imprisonment. And even after completing a felony sentence, other repercussions can follow you for years into your future. Consequently, you want to call a skilled defense lawyer immediately when accused of a felony offense to give yourself the best possible chance to prevent a conviction.
Virginia law categorizes felony offenses into classes, that is, Class 1 to 6. Class 1 felony crimes are the most severe, while Class 6 are the least severe. The class under which a particular felony falls depends on various factors, for instance, the facts of the crime in question, the severity of the criminal offense, and the defendant’s intent. The different maximum penalties for these categories of felonies are authorized under Va. Code 18.2-10. The felony classes are:
Class 1 felony crimes are the most severe in Virginia. An example of an offense considered a Class 1 felony is capital murder. Va. Code 18.2-31 describes capital murder as any premeditated, deliberate, and willful killing. Another example of a Class 1 felony is the sexual abuse of a minor younger than fifteen.
Class one felony offenses subject the defendant to the harshest penalties upon a conviction, including life imprisonment, a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars, and capital punishment, also called the death penalty. Courts consider capital punishment only if the offender is not less than eighteen years old. For these types of felonies, your best chance of facing a reduced prison sentence is to seek legal representation from an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.
Class two felonies are slightly less severe than Class 1 felonies. These offenses are still deemed severe and subject the offender to heavy possible punishments. Premeditated, deliberate, and willful murders that are not eligible to be capital murders are classified under this category of felonies. These murders include second-degree and first-degree murders. Other Class 2 felony violations include terrorism, kidnapping for money extortion, malicious wounding with aggravated factors, burglary with a deadly weapon, and arson.
The punishment for Class 2 felonies upon a conviction includes a prison sentence ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment. You may also face a maximum of one hundred thousand dollars in fines.
This category of offenses includes stabbing or shooting someone intending to kill or maim them, burglary, and attempted poisoning. If found guilty of a Class 3 felony, you may face a prison sentence ranging from five to 20 years and a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
There are several crimes classified under the Class 4 group of felonies in the Commonwealth of Virginia. These violations include human trafficking, embezzlement, arson of an unoccupied building, shooting at an automobile, child abuse, bigamy, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, kidnapping, manslaughter, and forging public records.
These crimes are punishable by a prison sentence ranging between two and ten years and up to one hundred thousand dollars in fines. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is usually in your best interests as it will increase your chances of having your incarceration period reduced.
Whereas Class 5 felonies remain severe offenses in Virginia State, they are sometimes referred to as wobblers. A wobbler is a violation that the prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the case facts and particular circumstances at the judge’s discretion. For instance, if you have been arrested for a Class 5 felony first offense and have no criminal record, you will more likely face misdemeanor charges than felony charges. Should a felony be lowered to a misdemeanor violation, it is usually considered significantly less severe before the law, landlords, employers, and other parties.
Class five felonies include involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, extortion, soliciting prostitution of a child below sixteen years old, credit card forgery, and computer fraud that involves damages worth five hundred dollars. Being convicted of a Class 5 felony conviction will subject you to a prison sentence of between one and ten years. Or, should the court opt to convict you of a misdemeanor, you may face a jail term of up to a year and a maximum fine of two thousand five hundred dollars as the penalty.
Like Class 5 felony offenses, Class six felony charges are also considered wobblers and penalized as misdemeanor violations at the court’s discretion. These offenses include credit card fraud of five hundred dollars or more, soliciting prostitution of a child sixteen years or more, multiple domestic violence, and strangulation. Consequences upon a felony conviction include a prison sentence ranging between one and five years. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you will face up to a year of incarceration and a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars.
Other Felony Conviction Penalties
You may face other consequences and penalties apart from fines and incarceration if sentenced for a felony. They include:
Registration as a Sex Offender
Felony offenders might face other criminal repercussions of a conviction that will follow them for several years. For instance, if convicted of a felony sex crime, you may be required to comply with the sex offender registration requirement. Registering as a sex offender in Virginia necessitates anyone found guilty of specific sex offenses to register at the sheriff's office or police department where they live. This necessitates regular registration, keeping off from given locations, and being subject to police visits.
A felony conviction can have serious immigration consequences if you are not a U.S citizen. Consequently, if you are an immigrant charged with a felony in Virginia, you want to consult a knowledgeable immigration lawyer in addition to a criminal defense attorney.
An immigrant convicted or arrested of an offense may be subject to a removal hearing, impacting their right to stay in the U.S. Whether an immigrant is considered removable (either inadmissible or deportable) due to a criminal conviction is based on several factors. One of the factors is whether the offense the immigrant is being accused of is a removable offense. Removable offenses in Virginia include aggravated felony and controlled substance convictions and crimes involving moral turpitude, among others.
Aggravated felonies that can render you inadmissible to the U.S or make you deported include rape, murder, firearm/drug trafficking, and sexual abuse of a minor. Any conspiracy, attempt, or possibly solicitation to commit an aggravated felony can also make you deported or labeled inadmissible to the United States.
Collateral Felony Conviction Consequences
Even after successfully doing your incarceration period, paying the required fine, or serving other criminal consequences, a criminal record of any felony conviction can follow you for your entire life. There are particular privileges and rights that Virginia convicted felons can lose. This includes restrictions on:
- Being a member of the jury
- Professional licenses
- State programs
Under Given Circumstances, a Virginia Convicted Felon Can Own/Possess a Firearm
Usually, being convicted of a felony means being stripped of the right to lawfully own or possess a gun unless your right is restored under federal and state statutes. The restoration of your firearm rights can occur if the Governor grants you a full pardon per applicable Virginia statutes and the executive order does not mention any limitations on your capability to possess a gun. Alternatively, it can happen if you sought for your rights to be restored under a simple pardon, and the Circuit Court of your jurisdiction permitted you to possess a firearm.
In certain cases, you might also seek to have your firearm right restored if you were found guilty of a felony in federal court, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives stripped you of your gun disabilities.
The rules concerning restoring firearm rights can be intricate, so you want to consult your lawyer before buying a gun.
A Convicted Felon In Virginia Can Now Exercise Their Right to Vote
Under the recent law, convicted felons in Virginia can now vote. In March 2021, Governor Ralph Northam took executive action to restore voting rights to formerly convicted felons as soon as their prison sentence ended. Previously they were required to wait until they completed parole or probation periods, which at times lasted for many years.
A criminal record is a public record, and the public, housing providers, or employers can access it. Criminal background checks are routine as far as housing or job application is concerned and will usually unearth any record of a prior felony conviction. This may make it harder for you to find employment or an apartment in which to live.
Criminal record expungement is usually not an option if you have been found guilty of an offense in Virginia. You can only expunge your criminal record if the State withdrew the charges against you, your case was dismissed, or the court pronounced you not guilty.
How Many Misdemeanor Offenses Add Up to a Felony?
This is a common question. Most people erroneously believe the law has designed a mathematical technique where a particular number of misdemeanor offenses equal a felony, although this is not it. It is a fact that several charges may result in a wobbler crime being prosecuted as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. That is why multiple counts of domestic violence, for instance, may be considered a felony while one count is generally deemed a misdemeanor offense.
However, this will be done only at the judge's discretion, and it is not done based on any set counts of charges. The judge will generally look at the extent of harm caused instead of the precise count of charges against you. For this reason, you want to hire the most experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you. Your lawyer may be capable of arguing that although you may have violated the law, you did no or little actual harm.
Felonies Can be Lowered to Misdemeanors
Sometimes a felony charge can be lowered to a misdemeanor. Using an approach known as plea deal bargaining, you may have your felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor charge in certain situations. But this means you enter a guilty plea for the lesser misdemeanor charge, and the conviction will still reflect on your criminal record, which could cause you problems in the future.
So why seek to have your felony charges reduced to misdemeanor charges? Plea deal bargaining is not always the perfect solution for your case. However, it may come in handy if you have been accused of a severe offense with compelling proof against you. In given situations, plea bargaining may save you the expense, stress, and time of a court trial.
Based on the specific deal your lawyer and the prosecution work out, you may additionally avoid incarceration and instead serve a probation sentence and pay a fine. Or, you could still spend a little time in detention, but your term will be much shorter than you may have faced if you had been convicted of a felony.
Whether agreeing to a plea deal or not is the appropriate decision is upon you, the accused. If there is a chance for you to receive a plea deal, your lawyer will explain to you all the terms. It is essential to ask the lawyer any questions you have, so it is clear what you will agree to should you accept the plea deal.
Also, you should note that even if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the conviction record will still reflect on your record, making it challenging to secure employment, an education, or housing in the coming days. But if the prosecution has solid proof against you and will more likely be found guilty of the more severe offense, this might not matter.
Your lawyer will also review the proof the prosecution will submit and your legal options for disproving it. Again, this move ought to give you a clue on how things will likely be at trial.
If you believe it is worth agreeing to a plea deal but do not like the prosecution's terms, your attorney may be capable of negotiating for other better terms like no or less incarceration period.
Will the Commonwealth Assign Me a Public Defender, or Must I Retain a Lawyer?
You are entitled to seek the public defender's help at a zero fee if you have been accused of an offense. This option means ensuring everyone can be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer, even when they cannot afford to retain an attorney. Public defenders refer to skilled criminal lawyers who work to assist their clients.
But public defenders are in high demand, meaning they are usually very engaged. They may have a lot of cases to handle and may be incapable of spending as much resources and time handling your particular case as a private lawyer would. They also assist defendants with a broad range of criminal charges and might not have as much experience in the type of offense you were accused of as a private lawyer specializing in that kind of case would.
For these and other reasons, you want to consider retaining your own lawyer if you have been accused of a criminal offense, particularly a felony charge. If unsure if you will afford one, research lawyers who specialize in the kind of charges you are facing. Most lawyers will offer you a cost estimate and free initial consultation if you want to hire their services.
Find a Knowledgeable and Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Even if the state has accused you of a severe crime such as rape, arson, or murder, an expert felony attorney can help. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we have helped many clients receive their deserved justice irrespective of their charges. If you have been accused of a felony, it is generally in your interest to retain a lawyer immediately since the Virginia legal process involving felonies is complex.
Hiring a lawyer early on may help you avoid incarceration before your court trial or have your charges and punishment reduced. Regardless of your alleged crime, we believe everyone is entitled to a due legal process and will strive to obtain the best possible outcome for you. If you have been arrested for or charged with a felony in Northern Virginia or Fairfax, call us today for a free initial consultation at 703-718-5533.