What is the most common felony? At first glance, this might seem like a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, but surprisingly, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the United States, the criminal justice system is made up of thousands of state, federal, and local systems, and the data these systems report is never presented in a neat package.
From the various forms of data reported we can identify the most common felonies, but identifying one felony as being more common than all the others isn’t really possible.
What Is A Felony?
A felony is a serious criminal offense which carries the possibility of a prison term of at least 1 year. Even when a judge imposes a lesser sentence, opting for probation rather than incarceration, the offense still remains a felony.
Less serious offenses are called misdemeanors, these are punishable with fines and a maximum sentence of 1 year.
The least serious offenses are called infractions. Infractions don’t carry any jail time
Misdemeanor sentences are served in local jails. Felony sentences are usually served in state and federal prisons, although some local jails also house felons.
The 4 Categories With The Most Common Felonies
Felonies fall into broad categories, so we’ll start with those categories, and then narrow our focus to the most common felonies in each group.
The most common felonies are grouped into:
- Drug crimes
- Property crimes
- Public order offenses
- Violent crimes
According to data analyzed by the Prison Policy Initiative, there are currently 110,000 inmates in state prisons serving sentences for public order offenses, 132,000 convicted of felony drug offenses, 142,000 felons serving time for property crimes, and 656,000 offenders behind bars for crimes of violence.
Continuing with these categories, federal prisons hold another 61,000 public order offenders, 69,000 drug offenders, 11,000 prisoners serving time for violent offenses, and 6,000 for property crimes.
Local jails hold a mix of criminals convicted of less serious offenses and people awaiting trial who were either denied bail or couldn’t afford the cost.
Of those awaiting trial, 135,000 are accused of violent crime, 106,000 have property crime charges, 109,000 have been charged with a drug-related offense, and 75,000 are sitting in jail accused of public order offenses.
Drug Abuse Felonies
Drug abuse felonies fall into 3 broad groups:
- Drug and drug paraphernalia possession
- Drug trafficking and distribution
- Drug manufacture
Drug possession can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The classification of the offense depends on the type of drug and the quantity.
Possession of a Schedule I or Schedule II substance will often result in felony charges. Drug trafficking drug distribution and drug manufacture are both felony offenses.
Sentences for a first-time, less serious felony drug crime, typically range from 1 to 3 years in prison and a fine of several thousand dollars.
Repeat offenders and those charged with more serious offenses face longer sentences and heavy fines.
In state prisons, 34,000 felons are serving time for drug possession, while 98,000 are behind bars for other drug crimes.
Local jails hold 11,000 offenders convicted of drug possession, 7,000 convicted of drug trafficking, and 2,000 convicted of other drug crimes. The number of people in jail awaiting trial for drug offenses is 109,000.
The main property crimes are:
- Vehicle theft
- Other theft
Property crimes can be misdemeanors or felonies, it depends on state law and/or the scale of the offense.
Burglary is the most common felony in this category and occurs when someone enters a building without permission with the intent of committing a crime.
First-degree burglary which involves entering a person’s home is always a felony. Other types of burglary can be tried as a misdemeanor or a felony.
A conviction for felony burglary typically results in a custodial sentence of at least 1 year, although probation is sometimes an alternative option.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the burglary and state law, felony burglary convictions can lead to sentences of 20 years or more.
In state prisons, 80,000 inmates are serving sentences for felony burglary. Five thousand offenders with burglary convictions are behind bars in local jails, and a further 33,000 charged with burglary are sitting in jail awaiting trial.
State prisons are also holding 13,000 felons for fraud, 7,000 for car theft, 27,000 for theft, and 15,000 for other property theft.
Public Order Offences
Public order offenses are illegal acts that violate social policy, public opinion, or moral values.
Some types of low-level drug crimes are prosecuted as public order offenses. Other public order offenses include but aren’t limited to:
- Carrying or possessing a restricted weapon
- Parole or probation violations
- Obstruction of justice
- Driving while intoxicated
- Immigration offenses
In state prisons, felons being held for public order offenses include 39,000 with weapons convictions, 15,000 with DUI convictions, and 56,000 held for other public order offenses.
Local jails hold another 27,000 offenders convicted of public order offenses, along with 75,000 people awaiting trial.
Sentences for public order offenses vary considerably. A sentence for felony DIU could be as little as 1 year for a less serious offense, or up to 15 years if the offense resulted in bodily injury.
Violent offenses are usually felonies. Crimes classed as violent offenses include:
- Rape/Sexual assault
Other offenses are treated as violent offenses when the threat of force is used even when no physical violence takes place.
Which violent offense is the most common felony in state prisons? According to the Prison Policy Initiative, rape/sexual assault is the most common felony with 163,000 offenders serving their sentences in state prisons.
The sentence for rape depends on state law, the age of the victim, and the circumstances of the crime. Rape without aggravating factors carries a lower sentence than rape using or threatening the use of deadly force.
Sentences can range from 2 years to life imprisonment.
Murderers held in state prisons numbered 158,000, felons convicted of assault total 146,000, 132,000 felons are behind bars for robbery, 19,000 for manslaughter, and 40,000 felons are serving time for other violent offenses.
A smaller number of convicted felons are locked up in local jails, with jails holding 1,000 murderers, 1,000 rapists, 500 offenders serving a sentence for manslaughter, and 3,000 criminals convicted of robbery.
Jails also hold 135,000 people awaiting trial for violent offenses.
What Crimes Are Felonies?
Felonies are serious crimes punishable by at least 1 year in prison.
Violent felonies include:
- Sexual assault
- Child molestation
Serious drug felonies include:
- Manufacturing illegal substances
- Drug trafficking
- Drug distribution
- Drug possession
Serious property felonies include:
- Grand theft
- Vehicle theft
Serious public order offenses include:
- Carrying restricted weapons
- Parole or probation violations
- Immigration offenses
Some crimes can be prosecuted as felonies or as misdemeanors. The distinction will be based on state law, the circumstances of the crime, and whether the accused is a repeat offender.
In state prisons violent criminals are the most common felony category, accounting for the largest number of inmates.
See Also: Best Degrees For Female Felons
Charles Greg is the Co-Founder, Author, & Head Developer behind RentingtoFelons.org
With a lifelong passion for humanity.