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

Porter was charged with felony assault with deadly weapon on emergency personnel. Lavendrick Smith, charlotteobserver, "A fire crew was responding to a grass fire when an NC man shot a pistol at them, officials say," 12 July 2018 Fowler is charged with two counts of felony battery on a law enforcement officer in connection with Monday’s incident and misdemeanor battery and interference with arrest in connection with Friday’s, Wright says. Greg Hanlon, PEOPLE.com, "Kansas Politician Accused of Biting Officer's Thumb Hard Enough to Break It," 11 July 2018 Nieves, from Brooklyn, was arrested two days later and charged with felony assault with a weapon. Katherine Lam, Fox News, "Man bashes subway rider with metal pipe and fractures skull, police say," 10 July 2018 These crime statistics measure murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto. Katie Honan, WSJ, "New York City Murders on the Rise in 2018, NYPD Data Shows," 10 July 2018 Chris Brown was arrested Thursday night for felony battery, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office confirmed in a statement to Refinery29. Kathryn Lindsay, refinery29.com, "Chris Brown Arrested For Felony Battery After Florida Concert," 6 July 2018 The 29-year-old entertainer's record of violence includes a guilty plea to felony assault for beating up his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 and a 2016 arrest on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. NBC News, "Singer Chris Brown arrested for felony assault in Florida," 6 July 2018 According to charging documents, 21-year-old hairstylist Sabriah Brewster is charged with first-degree felony assault after shooting one of her clients five times. Aaron Randle, kansascity, "KC hairstylist charged with shooting her client five times," 2 July 2018 Darwish, who suffered a broken arm, was jailed on suspicion of felony assault and other misdemeanor charges. Lyndsay Winkley, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Did the 'system' fail mentally ill man who shot 2 San Diego police officers? Some think so," 1 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

22 Oct 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

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