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

Timothy Trybus, 62, is charged with two felony counts of hate crime, Cook County State's Attorney spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. Phil Helsel /, NBC News, "Man seen in video harassing woman in Puerto Rico shirt charged with hate crime," 12 July 2018 Seven other felony counts of similar charges would be dismissed. Anne Ryman, azcentral, "Ex-NAU professor accused of stalking hotshot fire crew members takes plea deal," 10 July 2018 In 2007, a previous owner of the cemeteries, Clayton Smart of Oklahoma, was arrested and pleaded guilty in Michigan to 39 felony counts for embezzling more than $60 million from the cemeteries' trust funds. J.c. Reindl, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan fund backs questionable bid for scandal-plagued cemeteries," 4 July 2018 Zachary Machnikowski, 21, pleaded guilty to the two felony counts during a hearing in DuPage County court. Clifford Ward, Naperville Sun, "Naperville man pleads guilty to attempted murder in attack on couple whose daughter, he claimed, criticized his looks at party," 29 June 2018 Shanyla Douglas, 20, and Eric Douglas, 21, both of Milwaukee, have each been charged with a felony count of burglary of a building, party to a crime, according to online court records. Elliot Hughes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Brother, sister charged in Greenfield Burger King burglary after stealing safe's key from friend," 26 June 2018 The driver, 42-year-old Jason Tanner of Lakehead, Calif., was charged with one felony count of possession of more than 5,000 grams of cannabis. Mike Nolan, Daily Southtown, "Chicago police dog sniffs out more than $10 million of pot in Midlothian," 25 June 2018 Kenol is expected to be arraigned in Worcester District Court on charges of operating to endanger, failure to stop for police, assault with a dangerous weapon, use of a firearm in a felony, and carrying a firearm without a license. Lucas Phillips, BostonGlobe.com, "In separate Worcester attacks, suspect allegedly shoots at bicyclist, and man is wounded in back," 14 July 2018 Police charged De Santiago with one felony, possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver, and two misdemeanors, unlawful use of weapons and driving while license suspended. Staff Report, chicagotribune.com, "Norridge and Harwood Heights police reports," 13 July 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

10 Sep 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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alleviating pain or harshness

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