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A felony, in many common law legal systems, is the term for a "very serious" crime; misdemeanors are considered to be less serious. Crimes which are commonly considered to be felonies include: aggravated assault, arson, burglary, murder, and rape. Those who are convicted of a felony are known as felons. Originally, felonies were crimes for which the punishment was either death or forfeiture of property. Nowadays, felons can receive punishments which range in severity; from probation, to imprisonment, to execution. Felons often receive additional punishments such as the loss of voting rights, exclusion from certain lines of work, and loss of firearm rights. In addition, some states consider a felony conviction to be grounds for an uncontested divorce.
The distinction between a felony and misdemeanour has been abolished by some common law jurisdictions (e.g. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic., Australia) s. 332B(1), Crimes Act 1900 (NSW., Australia) s. 580E(1)); other jurisdictions maintain the distinction, notably those of the US. Those jurisdictions which have abolished the distinction generally adopt some other classification, e.g. in New South Wales, Australia, the crimes are divided into summary offences and indictable offences.
In Canada, the term summary offence is used instead of misdemeanour; and indictable offence rather than felony.
The United States
In many jurisdictions of the US, a felony is any offense carrying a potential penalty of more than one year in prison. An offense carrying a lesser sentence is usually a misdemeanor. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, a felony is any offense which carries any prison time. Some states have done away with the felony/misdemeanor classification. For example, New Jersey designates offenses as first degree through fourth degree. A third degree offense is punishable by six months to eighteen months in jail.
US jurisdictions retaining the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor, sometimes divide felonies into classes, e.g. class A felony, class B felony, etc. This classification system was abolished for offenses committed under federal law after December 1, 1987, but has been retained by some states.
A civil sanction imposed on US citizens convicted of a felony includes the loss of competence to serve on a grand or petit jury. However the convicted person may regain his ability to serve as a juror as part of a general restoration of civil rights following completion of sentence. In addition, convicted felons are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms.
Theoretically, federal law allows persons convicted of felonies in a federal United States district court to apply to have their record expunged. However, the U.S. Congress has refused to fund the federal agency mandated with handling the applications of convicted felons to have their record expunged. This means that in practice, federal felons cannot have their records expunged.
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