fel·​o·​ny | \ ˈfe-lə-nē How to pronounce felony (audio) \
plural felonies

Definition of felony

1 : an act on the part of a feudal vassal (see vassal sense 1) involving the forfeiture of his fee
2a : a grave crime formerly differing from a misdemeanor (see misdemeanor sense 1) under English common law by involving forfeiture in addition to any other punishment
b : a grave crime (such as murder or rape) declared to be a felony by the common law or by statute regardless of the punishment actually imposed
c : a crime declared a felony by statute because of the punishment imposed
d : a crime for which the punishment in federal law may be death or imprisonment for more than one year

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Did You Know?

In US law, a felony is typically defined as a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one year or by the death penalty. Misdemeanors, in contrast, are often defined as offenses punishable only by fines or by short terms of imprisonment in local jails. Originally, in English law, a felony was a crime for which the perpetrator would suffer forfeiture of all real and personal property as well as whatever sentence was imposed. Under US law, there is no forfeiture of all of the felon’s property, and it is not part of the definition. For certain crimes, however, such as some kinds of racketeering, specific property is subject to forfeiture.

Examples of felony in a Sentence

The crime is considered a felony under state law. He was convicted of felony murder.
Recent Examples on the Web After fleeing from Idaho to Hawaii during an investigation, Vallow, 46, was arrested Thursday on charges of felony child abandonment — a milestone in a case that spans several states and is filled with bizarre twists. Rebecca Boone, Fox News, "Lori Vallow, mom of missing Idaho kids, reportedly declared herself a god sent to prepare world for apocalypse," 23 Feb. 2020 Hendershot, who is 20 and from Indianapolis, was booked into Monroe County Jail at 11:25 p.m. on preliminary charges of felony residential entry, as well as three misdemeanors: domestic battery, criminal mischief and criminal conversion. Jon Blau And Laura Lane, Indianapolis Star, "Indiana TE Peyton Hendershot arrested on multiple charges after incident with ex-girlfriend," 23 Feb. 2020 Even after he was charged in a felony indictment, prosecutors said, Stone continued to try to manipulate the administration of justice by threatening Jackson in a social media post and violating her gag orders. Sharon Lafraniere, BostonGlobe.com, "Roger Stone is sentenced to more than 3 years in prison," 20 Feb. 2020 The man had been arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence and misdemeanor drunken driving and had since been trying to take responsibility for the incident, Woods said. Olga R. Rodriguez And Juliet Williams, USA TODAY, "ICE ignores California law in courthouse arrests, prompting outcry from local officials," 20 Feb. 2020 Milken pleaded guilty to six felonies in 1990 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Los Angeles Times, "Newsletter: Michael Milken’s long reinvention," 19 Feb. 2020 The suspect was later convicted of two felonies and four misdemeanors, according to Police Capt. Cathy Kozlowicz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Menomonee Falls award-winning police dog, Tyson, retires," 19 Feb. 2020 House Bill 424, filed by Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, would amend over a dozen Kentucky statutes related to various types of theft and fraud, raising the minimum threshold amount to constitute a Class D felony from over $100 to $500 to over $1,000. Joe Sonka, The Courier-Journal, "Legislation would raise threshold on felony theft, fraud to help reduce prison population," 14 Feb. 2020 Police said the grand jury would determine whether the case could be charged as criminally negligent homicide, a felony that carries a punishment of six months to two years in state jail. Tom Steele, Dallas News, "Elderly driver who fatally struck 12-year-old Carrollton boy could face negligent homicide charge," 12 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'felony.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of felony

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for felony

see felon entry 1

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Time Traveler for felony

Time Traveler

The first known use of felony was in the 14th century

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Statistics for felony

Last Updated

26 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Felony.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/felony. Accessed 27 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for felony


How to pronounce felony (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of felony

law : a serious crime (such as murder or rape)


fel·​o·​ny | \ ˈfe-lə-nē How to pronounce felony (audio) \
plural felonies

Kids Definition of felony

: a very serious crime


fel·​o·​ny | \ ˈfe-lə-nē How to pronounce felony (audio) \
plural felonies

Legal Definition of felony

: a crime that has a greater punishment imposed by statute than that imposed on a misdemeanor specifically : a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than a year — see also attainder, treason

Note: Originally in English law a felony was a crime for which the perpetrator would suffer forfeiture of all real and personal property as well as whatever sentence was imposed. Under U.S. law, there is no forfeiture of all of the felon's property (real or personal) and such forfeiture is not part of the definition of a felony. For certain crimes, however (as for a conviction under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or a narcotics law), specific property, such as that used in or gained by the crime, is subject to forfeiture. Every state has its own statutory definition of a felony. Most are in line with the federal definition of a felony as a crime which carries a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year or the death penalty (where applicable). Other states, like Louisiana, define a felony as a crime which carries a sentence of death or imprisonment at hard labor.

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