Last updated on April 30th, 2019
The state of Virginia recognizes six distinct felony classes. What they all have in common, however, is the severity of their penalties.
Unlike a misdemeanor conviction, a felony conviction can result in years of incarceration, massive fines, and the permanent loss of certain rights.
In this article, we’ll go over the different types of felonies in Virginia. However, remember that there’s no such thing as a minor felony. Even a Class 6 felony can have serious, even permanent consequences.
What is a Felony?
Essentially, the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” are just useful ways of categorizing crimes by their penalties.
While misdemeanors usually result in less than a year of jail time, most felonies call for sentences of a year or more.
To further distinguish between different levels of crime, Virginia breaks each category up into several different “classes.” These classes cover a wide range of offenses, ranging from identity theft to capital murder.
Additionally, felony convictions always result in the permanent loss of several rights. These rights include the ability to own firearms, vote, run for public office, and several others.
Further, many felony convictions can also lead to several offense-specific collateral consequences. Many of these collateral consequences can impact your life in unexpected ways, such as making it harder to get a job or apply for housing.
While the Governor’s office can restore some of these rights, doing so is a difficult and lengthy process. For this reason, many people hire lawyers to assist them in the process.
Virginia Felony Classes
Below, we’ll explore each of Virginia’s 6 felony classes, and detail the penalties for each. We’ll also include some common crimes which fall into each class.
Class 1 Felonies
As mentioned previously, Class 1 felonies are the most severely punished form of crime in Virginia. This is because Class 1 felonies are almost always extremely violent crimes, such as capital murder.
The maximum possible punishment for a Class 1 felony is the death penalty, although life in prison is the most common. Those charged with life in prison also face a fine of up to $100,000.
Class 2 Felonies
Like Class 1 felonies, the crimes categorized in Class 2 are usually inherently violent in nature.
The maximum penalty for a Class 2 felony is life in prison as well as a fine of up to $100,000. However, even in a best-case scenario, a Class 2 felony will result in at least 20 years in prison.
A few common examples of Class 2 felonies include:
- Aggravated Malicious Wounding – Any form of deadly assault that results in serious or permanent bodily impairment, including the loss of pregnancy.
- Bank Robbery – Entering a bank, while armed, with the intent to commit larceny also counts as a Class 2 felony.
- Armed Burglary – Entering another person’s home with the intent to commit a felony or larceny counts as a Class 2 felony. However, this is only if a “deadly weapon” was involved in the incident.
Class 3 Felonies
Offenders charged with Class 3 felonies also face severe forms of punishment. Anyone found guilty of a Class 3 felony faces a fine of up to $100,000 and 5 to 20 years of imprisonment.
Unlike Class 1 and Class 2 felonies, Class 3 felonies aren’t necessarily violent in nature. However, they almost always involve direct danger to another person, their property, or both. Class 3 also includes crimes of an especially heinous moral nature, such as human trafficking or building certain types of bombs.
A few common examples of Class 3 felonies include:
- Conspiring to Commit a Class 1 or Class 2 Felony – Unsurprisingly, conspiring to commit a serious crime is itself a serious crime.
- Unarmed Burglary – Breaking into another person’s home with the intent to commit a felony (or larceny) is punishable as a Class 3 felony. However, this is only the case as long as no deadly weapon was used in the incident.
- Certain forms of Sex Trafficking and Prostitution – Engaging in the commercial sex trafficking of a minor in Virginia counts as a Class 3 felony.
- Certain Forms of Arson – Many forms of arson which endanger the lives of others also fall into this category. For example, setting a building on fire while a person is inside, regardless of whether or not they’re injured, counts as a Class 3 felony.
Class 4 Felonies
Unlike the first three classes, Class 4 covers a much wider range of crimes.
These offenses can range from some violent altercations to certain white-collar crimes such as large-scale identity theft. Additionally, many crimes which fall into this class are lesser versions of certain Class 3 felonies.
As one example of an offense which behaves in this way, breaking and entering into certain vessels such as railroad cars, aircraft, or freight shipments is either a Class 3 or Class 4 felony depending on whether or not a firearm was involved.
The court can punish a Class 4 felony with a sentence of anywhere between 2 and 10 years of imprisonment. Additionally, the court may assign a fine of up to $100,000.
A few of the most common Class 4 felonies include crimes such as:
- Discharging a Firearm in a School – Willfully discharging a firearm on school property in Virginia counts as a Class 4 felony.
- Participating in Gang Activity which Involves Minors – Knowingly participating in a gang which has one or more child members is a Class 4 felony in Virginia. For more on how Virginia defines gangs, see our article on the subject.
- Embezzlement by Officers of Public Funds – As one example of a white collar crime, embezzling funds as an agent or employee of the Commonwealth counts as a Class 4 felony.
Class 5 Felonies
Unlike the previous felony classes, Class 5 felonies are known as “wobblers.” This means that the state may choose to try them as either felonies or Class 1 misdemeanors depending on the nature and circumstances of the crime.
If tried as a felony, Class 5 convictions lead to imprisonment for between 1 and 10 years. Alternatively, the court might assign a penalty of up to 12 months in prison, as well as a fine of up to $2,500, either or both. This second option carries the same penalties as a Class 1 misdemeanor, but retains the felony implications.
Class 5 is one of the broadest felony classes, including dozens of separate offenses. A few examples from this category include:
- Involuntary Manslaughter – Cases which include instances of involuntary manslaughter are often tried as Class 5 felonies. One common example of this is drunk or reckless driving.
- Abduction and Kidnapping – Any type of abduction or kidnapping not otherwise dealt with directly in the code is punished as a Class 5 felony.
- Perjury – Finally, willfully and knowingly lying while under oath in a Virginia court is punishable as a Class 5 felony.
Class 6 Felonies
Like Class 5 felonies, Class 6 felonies also count as “wobblers,” and are sometimes tried as Class 1 misdemeanors.
Class 6 felonies are punishable with a term of imprisonment of between 1 and 5 years. Alternatively, a judge or jury may decide to punish a Class 6 felony with confinement in jail for up to 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
Some common Class 6 felonies include crimes such as:
- Distributing Controlled Substances in Schedules I-IV – In most cases, distribution charges related to heroin, cocaine, and other Schedule I-IV drugs are tried as Class 6 felonies.
- Smuggling Cigarettes – Interestingly, the first conviction of smuggling cigarettes for the purpose of evading state taxes is a Class 6 felony.
- Identity Theft – If an individual commits identity theft multiple times, or causes a financial loss of $500 or more, the crime is usually tried as a Class 6 felony. Otherwise, it counts as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Felonies are incredibly serious matters that carry penalties to match. Pleading guilty to any felony can result in years in prison, massive fines, and the loss of certain civil rights.
For this reason, you should always contact a lawyer immediately after felony charges are filed against you. An experienced criminal defense lawyer help can guide you through Virginia’s legal process. Further, they can make sure you receive the best possible outcome in your case.