FELONY. In the common-law classification of crimes, the second in atrocity and in impor tance, the first being treason, and the one com prehending all minor offenses being misdemean ors. Omitting treason (which, though sometimes classed as a, felony, really stands by itself in our legal the distinction b 'tween felonies and misdemeanors corresponds roughly to that be tween grave offenses and such as are less hein ous in character. But the distinction is a purely artificial one. Our law has never made a classi fication of crimes which was based on their in herent nature, but has had reference in its divisions rather to the kind of punishment in flicted. A felony was any crime punishable by forfeiture of the criminal's lands. or goods, or both. Blackstone adds that capital or other pun ishment might be superadded to the forfeiture, according to the degree of guilt. and in England. for a long time, most felonies were punishable by death. But at common law forfeiture was al ways an e-sential part of the penalty, and pun ishment by death was never the true criterion. In England important statutory changes in the laws as to forfeiture (33 and RI o- 123, ISO) have taken away the praclicel nIilily of the former.test of a felony. But those crimes
are still held to be felonies and misdemeanors respectively which were so when the test was operative. Many crimes have been expressly de clared felonies by the statutes creating them. Even in the absence of such declaration all crimes for which by statute judgment of life or limb may be decreed are there held to be felonies. In some of the United States the distinction be tween felonies and misdemeanors is practically discarded, the punishment for each particular crime being prescribed by statute, and the word felony, if used at all, being employed in a loose and indefinite sense. In other States the distinc tion is retained by statute and made to depend on the kind of punishment. Thus, in a considerable number, statutes have declared that crimes pun ishable by death or by imprisonment in the State prison shall be felonious. In those States it is sufficient to constitute felony that those penalties may be imposed, though the court or jury may be given power to inflict a less severe punishment. See CnimE; INFAMOUS CRIME.