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punishment, death, crime, offences, law and descent

FELONY, in the general acceptation of the English law, comprises every species of crime which occasioned at com mon law the forfeiture of lands or goods, or both, and to which a capital or other punishment might be superadded, accord ing to the degree of guilt. Various de rivations of the word have been suggested. Sir Henry Spelman supposes that it may have come from the Teutonic or Ger man fee (fief or feud) and lon (price or value), or from the Saxon feelen to fall or offend. Capital punishment by no means enters into the true definition of felony ; but the common notion of felony has been so generally connected with that of capital punishment, that law-writers have found it difficult to separate them : in deed, this notion acquired such force, that if a statute made any new offence felony, the legal implication was that it should be punished with death. The number of offences, however, to which this punish ment is affixed by the law of England is now very small ; and several statutes have been lately passed (1 V ict. c. 84,85,86, &e.) founded upon the principle that the pun ishment of death should only be inflicted for crimes accompanied with violence. Thus c. 84 substitutes the punishment of transportation for that of death in those cases where death might still be inflicted for forgery ; c. 85 materially lessens the severity of the punishment of offences against the person ; c. 86 enacts that bur glary unaccompanied with violence shall no longer be punished capitally, and pro vides that, so far as the offence of bur glary is concerned, the night shall be considered to commence at nine in the evening and to conclude at six in the morning ; c. 87 mitigates the punishment attending the crimes of robbery and steal ing from the person; c. 88 renders piracy punishable with death only when murder is attempted ; c. 89 regulates the punish

ment for the crime of arson ; c. 90 miti gates the punishment of transportation for life in certain cases; and c. 91 abolishes the punishment of death in the cases there specified. Great numbers of offences were formally liable to this severe punish ment. The word felony is now used very vaguely, and it has long been em ployed to signify the degree of crime rather than the penal consequences. It is sufficient here to state generally, that murder, manslaughter, felo-de-se, rob bery, arson, burglary, offences against the coin, &c., are considered and classed as felonies. [Lew, CRIMINAL.] Besides the special punishment affixed to his crime by the law, a felon upon con viction forfeited the rents and profits of his lands of inheritance during his life to the king (which are now usually com pounded for), and also all his goods and chattels absolutely ; and as attainder of felony caused corruption of blood, his lands, except of gavelkind tenure, es cheated to the lord of the fee. This last consequence, however, was taken away by stat. 54 Geo. Ill. c. 145, which en acted. that, except for treason or murder, corruption of blood should not follow at tainder; and as difficulties might some times occur in tracing descent through an ancestor who had been attainted, it was, by the 3 & 4 Will. IV. c. 108, § 10, enacted that descent may be traced through any person who shall have been attainted before such descent shall have taken place. [ATTAINDER ; DESCENT ; ES CHEAT; FORFEITURE.] The distinction formerly made between felony with and without benefit of clergy is explained in BENEFIT OF CLERGY.