The term felony originated from English common law (from the French medieval word "félonie"), to describe an offense that resulted in the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods, to which additional punishments including capital punishment could be added. Other crimes were called misdemeanors. A felony is traditionally considered a crime of high seriousness, whereas a misdemeanor is regarded as less serious. Following conviction of a felony in a court of law, a person may be described as a convicted felon/felon. The centuries-old stigma of loss of wealth, status and speculated extreme gravity to the crime sees those personal descriptions widely deprecated, in favour of ex-convict or ex-criminal.
Some common law countries and jurisdictions no longer classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors and instead use other distinctions, such as by classifying serious crimes as indictable offences and less serious crimes as summary offences.
In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor. The classification is based upon a crime's potential sentence, so a crime remains classified as a felony even if a defendant receives a sentence of less than a year of incarceration. Individual states may classify crimes by other factors, such as seriousness or context.
In some civil law jurisdictions, such as Italy and Spain, the term delict is used to describe serious offenses, a category similar to common law felony. In other nations, such as Germany, France, Belgium, and Switzerland, more serious offenses are described as crimes, while misdemeanors or delicts (or délits) are less serious. In still others (such as Brazil and Portugal), crimes and delicts are synonymous (more serious) and are opposed to contraventions (less serious).
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