In crime shows like "Law and Order" we constantly hear the sentence "so-and-so is being tried for a second-degree felony." It sounds bad and is obviously terrible for the alleged criminal outfitted in a neon-orange jumpsuit awaiting his fate but what exactly does it mean?
A felony is the most serious of crimes because the jail sentence can range from one year to a death sentence. But, since the concept of law changes state to state, so does the definition of a second-degree felony which is why this article will cover the basics, namely, the definition of a felony, the intensity of the second-degree, and the general sentencing for various offences.
As aforementioned, a felony is a crime that requires no less than two years of jail time and no more than twenty years; a felony is a serious crime. The concept, practice, and enforcement of the law are very vague and circumstantial meaning that something may be legal in one situation but is a felony in another. A nice example of this is carrying a firearm. A citizen can apply for and obtain a license to carry a firearm but it becomes a felony if that object is brought into a public place, like a school.
In that instant, something that is legal becomes a felony that can reap hefty fines and imprisonment. In criminal courts, felonies are categorized into two natures, one being a violent felony and the other being non-violent. In various states, like New York, a violent felony could be murder, rape, kidnapping, arson, amongst many others. Non-violent felonies, in New York, are defined by bribing, perjury, stalking, and fraudulent activity to name a few.
Degrees of Felonies
Once the nature of the felony has been recognized, it is commonly placed underneath a sub-category of classification known as degrees. The degree a felony is placed under usually denotes the nature of the crime, the severity, and the subsequent punishment that will follow if the alleged perpetrator is convicted. It is generally said that the higher the number then the less serious the offence is which means that the lower the number, the crime which has been committed is more intense therefore requiring a harsher punishment.
The Texas Penal code describes a second-degree felony as an act punishable with no less than two years ranging to almost fifteen years in prison, as well as fines that do not exceed ten-thousand dollars. After the crime has been classified, the court then determines the people involved. Just like the degree system for the actual crime, the people are generally split up into four groups which suggest the amount of their participation in the crime.
The first category is first degree principals meaning the people who are the actual perpetrators in the offence. Then, the second degree principals are those who were accessories to the crime, meaning that they were present and participated, but did not commit the crime. Following this are the third degree principals who help plan the crime but are not present at the time it is executed. Then, lastly, the fourth degree principals who help after the crime has taken place and are involved in activities such as a cover-up.
Varies by State
But, as stated earlier in the article, the classification and consequences of these felonies vary state to state meaning that something that is considered a severe felony in Alabama could be a minor felony in Mississippi. Therefore, it is important to consult your individual states definitions and categories of these offences.