(O.Eng.Law) An offense which occasions a total forfeiture either lands or goods, or both, at the common law, and to which capital or other punishment may be added, according to the degree of guilt.
3. A heinous crime; especially, a crime punishable by death or imprisonment.
Forfeiture for crime having been generally abolished in the United States, the term felony, in American law, has lost this point of distinction; and its meaning, where not fixed by statute, is somewhat vague and undefined; generally, however, it is used to denote an offense of a high grade, punishable either capitally or by a term of imprisonment. In Massachusetts, by statute, any crime punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison, and no other, is a felony; so in New York. the tendency now is to obliterate the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors; and this has been done partially in England, and completely in some of the States of the Union. The distinction is purely arbitrary, and its entire abolition is only a question of time.
There is no lawyer who would undertake to tell what a felony is, otherwise than by enumerating the various kinds of offenses which are so called. originally, the word felony had a meaning: it denoted all offenses the penalty of which included forfeiture of goods; but subsequent acts of Parliament have declared various offenses to be felonies, without enjoining that penalty, and have taken away the penalty from others, which continue, nevertheless, to be called felonies, insomuch that the acts so called have now no property whatever in common, save that of being unlawful and purnishable.
J. S. Mill.
To compound a felony. See under Compound,
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