fel·​o·​ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
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

Schrager spoke about his pardon from President Obama for his felony tax evasion charges in 1980. Lauren Sanchez, Vogue, "Ian Schrager Gives Advice on What Every Party Needs at the Studio 54 Documentary Premiere," 5 Oct. 2018 Because of the injury, he was booked for felony domestic violence, but the case will likely be downgraded to a misdemeanor because the injury was minor. Megan Friedman, Good Housekeeping, "‘America’s Got Talent’ Standout Michael Ketterer Has Been Arrested for Domestic Violence," 21 Sep. 2018 And she has been charged with 11 felonies for hacking into Selena Gomez’s personal email accounts. Anna Millard, refinery29.com, "Hacker Charged For Breaking Into Selena Gomez's Emails," 14 July 2018 This week’s wanted suspect: Kevin Alexander, 52 Wanted: Alexander is wanted on a felony warrant for possessing drugs for sale. Lyndsay Winkley, sandiegouniontribune.com, "San Diego's Wanted: Possessing drugs for sale," 12 July 2018 He was arrested on an outstanding felony warrant and charged with second-degree assault and first-degree harassment in the case, which is still pending. Matt Tunseth, Anchorage Daily News, "20-year-old charged with third police assault since September after officer stuck by needle," 11 July 2018 He later was released and booked into the Coconino County Jail on the felony warrant with possible additional charges pending further investigation. Nathan J. Fish, azcentral, "Man arrested after 5-hour standoff in Flagstaff," 27 June 2018 At the Police Department, Holder was served with two outstanding misdemeanor warrants, as well as a felony warrant for the Papa John's robbery, the police reported. Lisa Gutierrez, kansascity, "He tried to rob Papa John's — then sank his teeth into broken glass and three cops, police say," 19 June 2018 The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office holds a felony warrant for Pogreba with a $100,000.00 cash bail. Scott Peterson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Eagle gunman now has stolen car and is heading toward La Crosse or Minnesota, police say," 7 June 2018

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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Statistics for felony

Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for felony

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

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English Language Learners Definition of felony

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


fel·​o·​ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
plural felonies

Kids Definition of felony

: a very serious crime


fel·​o·​ny | \ˈfe-lə-nē \
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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More from Merriam-Webster on felony

Spanish Central: Translation of felony

Nglish: Translation of felony for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of felony for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about felony

Comments on felony

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to make faulty or ineffective

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