What is a Felony in Pennsylvania?

by | Feb 14, 2022


Felonies are the most serious criminal classification in Pennsylvania. They encompass a wide range of crimes, such as murder, drug trafficking, arson, and embezzlement. Pennsylvania laws recognize three classes of felonies as 1st-degree (F1), 2nd-degree (F2), and 3rd-degree (F3) while penalizing murder convictions under different statutes.

Felony convictions can have a significant impact on your life. Along with a longer prison sentence, felonies carry many additional consequences. They can also result in enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses, indicating that you should seek legal advice from an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

In This Article

If you or someone you love is facing a felony in PA, you will find the information in this article helpful in terms of general knowledge and background. More specifically, a Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer addresses the following questions:

  • What Types of Crimes Are Felonies in PA?
  • How Do PA’s Felony Sentencing Guidelines Work?
  • What Are the Maximum Felony Fines and Jail Sentences?
  • Are There Minimum Sentencing Guidelines that Apply to Felonies?
  • What Is Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations on Felonies?
  • Can You Get a Felony Dropped to a Misdemeanor?
  • What Should You Do If You Are Charged With a Felony in Pennsylvania?

What Types of Crimes Are Felonies in PA?

Several types of crimes could be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony offenses. The factors that determine whether or not your case is a felony depend upon statutes and the case’s circumstances.

Examples of crimes that could be classified as PA felonies include:

  • Aggravated assault
  • Arson
  • Bribery
  • Burglary
  • Certain gun crimes
  • Indecent assault
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Possession with intent to distribute
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Theft of property over $2,000
  • Violations of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA)
  • And many, many more

In some instances, a defense lawyer can get a client’s felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor, meaning a lower potential penalty. However, if prosecutors don’t have enough evidence or you want to go to trial, then fighting your case is a worthy effort rather than seeking a plea deal.

It’s important to remember that pleading guilty has the same consequence of going to trial and losing. Plea deals result in a conviction.

Related Article: Is Embezzlement a Felony in Pennsylvania?

How Do PA’s Felony Sentencing Guidelines Work?

Our state maintains sentencing guidelines to aid judges in determining an appropriate sentence for the given crime within the statutory parameters. An indeterminate sentencing system applies to most felonies, meaning that the trial judge may impose the maximum sentence allowable under the law but still must establish a minimum and maximum term of imprisonment.

Judges will also account for other relevant factors, including:

  • Aggravating factors
  • Criminal history
  • Use of a deadly weapon
  • Uncharged criminal behavior
  • Mitigating factors
  • Work history
  • Education history
  • Mental and physical health diagnoses
  • Seriousness of the offense

However, the maximum sentence may not exceed the legal limit. The maximum term of imprisonment must be at least double the minimum term per 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756. For example, if the maximum is 20 years, the minimum prison sentence can be up to ten years.

Do You Go to Prison or Jail for a Felony?

The maximum sentence term determines whether you go to state prison or county jail for a felony. While every case is unique, a maximum sentence of two or more years means that you will serve time in the Department of Corrections state prison. If it is less than two years, you will likely serve your time in county prison pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9762.

What Are the Maximum Felony Fines and Jail Sentences in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania law establishes maximum sentences for all felony offenses. However, some statutes impose different sentences, especially in matters involving sex offenses against minors or severely injuring someone.

Per 18 Pa.C.S. § 1103, the maximum felony sentences are outlined below:

  • 1st-degree felony: Up to 20 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
  • 2nd-degree felony: Up to ten years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines
  • 3rd-degree felony: Up to seven years imprisonment and $15,000 in fines

Murder Conviction Sentences

For murder and attempted murder, the state has separate sentencing maximums. The following maximum sentences of imprisonment apply under 18 Pa.C.S. 1102:

  • 1st-degree murder: Mandatory life imprisonment or capital punishment as decided by a jury
  • 2nd-degree murder: Mandatory life imprisonment
  • 3rd-degree murder: Up to 40 years imprisonment
  • Attempted murder: Up to 20 years in prison, or 40 if the attempt resulted in serious bodily injury

Are There Minimum Sentencing Guidelines that Apply to Felonies?

Pennsylvania imposes mandatory minimum sentences on various offenses and in certain circumstances. When a mandatory minimum sentence is imposed by law, the maximum sentence must be at least twice as long, up to the maximum.

In some instances, Pennsylvania law imposes additional penalties on top of the standard sentence. For example, drugged rape carries a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence plus the standard sentence.

What Is Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations on Felonies?

The criminal statute of limitations that applies to your Pennsylvania felony depends upon the offense. In general, the statute of limitations on prosecuting a felony is five years. However, the most severe crimes, like murder, have no statute of limitations, while violent sexual assaults carry a 12-year limit.

Related Article: Can the Philadelphia Police Lie to You?

Can You Get a Felony Dropped to a Misdemeanor?

Yes, you can get a felony dropped to a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. You can do this by convincing a judge that the prosecution cannot prove an element of an offense that makes it a felony, or you can negotiate this option with the prosecutor. It is worth getting legal advice when facing a felony since a plea deal may not be the best option.

The art of negotiation, case analysis, and investigatory resources are often necessary when you want to get your charges dropped, dismissed, or reduced. A criminal defense lawyer can point out flaws in the state’s evidence and present other critical arguments in favor of your objectives.

What Should You Do If You Are Charged With a Felony in Pennsylvania?

If you face felony charges, speak with a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A felony conviction can result in long-term consequences that can affect the rest of your life. However, your charges are defensible.

You should put together a case strategy with a legal team that will fight for an outcome that you want.

Get a Free Case Evaluation with Shuttleworth Law PC Now

You can learn more about your legal rights and options with a lawyer during a Free Case Evaluation at (215) 774-1371. Shuttleworth Law PC founder, Brad V. Shuttleworth, Esq., also welcomes you to contact him directly here if you prefer to send a message.

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