Virginia Felony Classes: A Quick Guide

The Virginia Code divides the different levels of felonies into 6 separate “classes,” which cover offenses including murder, identity theft, and arson.

The state of Virginia recognizes six distinct felony classes.

What they all have in common, however, is the severity of their penalties.

Unlike misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions 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 a serious, even permanent impact on your life.

What is a Felony?

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Essentially, the words “felony” and “misdemeanor” are useful terms for categorizing crimes by their penalties.

For example, in Virginia, misdemeanors usually result in less than a year of jail time, while felonies often 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 six different classes allow for a further division of Virginia’s various criminal penalties.

For example, Class 1 felonies (such as capital murder) are the most serious form of crime in the Commonwealth, and carry much harsher penalties than Class 6 felonies (such as identity theft).

Further, many felony convictions can 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 long and difficult process.

Virginia Felony Classes

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Below, we’ll explore each of Virginia’s 6 felony classes, and detail the penalties for each.

We’ll also provide examples for common crimes which fall under each class.

Class 1 Felonies

As mentioned above, Class 1 felonies are the most serious 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:

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:

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.

For example, breaking and entering into railroad cars, aircraft, or freight shipments is either a Class 3 or Class 4 felony depending on whether 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:

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:

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 by 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.

Conclusion

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Felonies are incredibly serious matters with equally harsh penalties.

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.

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