What Is a Class A Felony?

By Claire Gillespie - Updated April 18, 2018
Handcuffs laying on top of fingerprint chart in file

As far as crimes go, you can't get more heinous than a class A felony. Class A is an extremely serious class of offense – think first-degree murder, rape and kidnapping in the first degree. It imposes hefty fines and/or lengthy periods of incarceration. In states that allow the death penalty, a class A felony charge can result in a death sentence.

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Classification of crimes varies by state, but class A felonies are generally the most serious types of felonies, including first-degree murder, rape, involuntary servitude of a minor and kidnapping in the first degree.

What Crimes Are Considered Class A Felonies?

Class A felonies include violent crimes such as arson, burglary, armed robbery, voluntary manslaughter and murder. Many class A felonies involve sexual violence, such as forcible rape. Some drug trafficking offenses may also be class A felonies. Criminal laws vary by state, and each state’s criminal statutes include different crimes under class A felony. The penalties may also be different. Some states use different names and classification systems, such as class 1 felony or level 1 felony. For example, first-degree murder is a class A felony in many states, including Washington, Delaware and North Carolina. But it is called a class 1 felony in other states like Arizona, Colorado and California.

What Is the Penalty for a Class A Felony?

Class A felonies carry the most serious penalties of all felony crimes. These vary by state, but generally include heavy fines up to $100,000 and long prison sentences – anything from 10 years to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

If a violent crime involved a minor or a sexual assault, an offender may get even harsher penalties for class A felonies, and repeat offenders are likely to get more severe penalties. Some states impose a mandatory life sentence or, in states that allow it, the death penalty for anyone who commits a class A felony.

What Is a Class B felony?

A class B felony is considered less serious than a class A felony, but still carries a lengthy jail sentence. Class B felonies typically include crimes against a person or possession of illegal items, such as: first-degree reckless homicide, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping in the second degree, assault and battery, second-degree arson, human trafficking, cocaine or heroin possession and attempt to commit a class A felony, such as murder.

Each state has its own classification of offenses, so a class B felony in one state may be a class A or a class C felony in another state. Some states use different names and classification systems, such as class 1, class 2, class 3, and so on. For example, second-degree arson is a class B felony in New York and Connecticut, a class G felony in North Carolina and a class 4 felony in Colorado.

About the Author

Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.

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