In many states, criminal offenses are classified according to their severity – from infractions and misdemeanors to felonies. Each crime category has its own classification to define the degree of severity of the offense and its corresponding sentence. The attorneys at The Law Office of Scott C. Nolan, PLLC, explain how felonies are classified in Virginia, the sentences you may receive for a felony offense, and why hiring a criminal defense attorney is the right choice if you are looking to protect your rights when facing charges.

What Is a Felony?

A felony is the most severe type of criminal offense that can be charged in the United States. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, a felony is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in a state prison (as opposed to a county jail, for example). Felonies typically involve some degree of physical violence or result in severe psychological trauma for the victim. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, arson, burglary, and grand larceny.

In general, felonies carry heavier punishments than misdemeanors, such as longer prison sentences in a state correctional facility, hefty fines, and probation. The most serious felonies carry a minimum sentence of life in prison.

How Are Felonies Classified in Virginia?

In Virginia, felonies are classified into six categories: Class 1, Class 2, Class 3, Class 4, Class 5, and Class 6. Each category has a different range of punishments associated with them. A Class 6 felony is the least serious type of offense, while a Class 1 felony is the most serious criminal offense.

Examples of crimes considered a Class 1 felony in Virginia include aggravated murder and capital murder. In contrast, second-degree murder and manslaughter are considered Class 2 felonies, while burglary, certain drug crimes, and violent crimes (such as stabbing or shooting someone) are considered Class 3 felonies. Discharging a firearm near a school or shooting a vehicle on purpose are examples of Class 4 felonies. A Class 5 felony charge can result from forgery of documents, extortion, abduction, or involuntary manslaughter. Finally, a Class 6 felony includes discharging a firearm in public, strangulation, or committing a third DUI within a 10-year period.

What Are the Penalties for a Felony in Virginia?

Class 1 felonies in Virginia are punishable by life in prison. Offenders may also be fined up to $100,000 and be subject to a period of supervised probation upon release. If convicted of a Class 2 felony, a defendant may face a prison sentence of 20 years to life in prison as well as a fine of up to $100,000. Class 3 felonies in Virginia are punishable by a minimum of 5 and up to 20 years in prison along with a fine of up to $100,000.

If a defendant is convicted of a Class 4 felony, they may spend a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 10 years in prison and pay a maximum fine of $100,000. Class 5 felonies in Virginia are sometimes referred to as wobbler offenses, as they can be punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison or be treated as a misdemeanor and result in up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. The same is true for Class 6 felonies, which may be punishable by up to 5 years in prison or up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 for a misdemeanor.

Are Felons Eligible for Parole in Virginia?

In Virginia, defendants convicted and sentenced for a felony typically need to serve at least 85% of their sentence and may gain sentencing credits for their behavior in prison. The sentencing credits give inmates an opportunity to reduce their sentence by 15%.

While discretionary parole was officially abolished in Virginia for any felonies that took place in 1995 or later, certain inmates may still be eligible for parole. The Virginia Parole Board is in charge of making decisions about parole requests and establishing the eligibility requirements for inmates to seek parole. Some of the requirements include having committed the crime prior to January 1st, 1995, or having been given an indeterminate sentence under the Youthful Offender Act.

What Is a “Class U” Felony, and What Are the Penalties for It?

In addition to the six felony classifications described above, Virginia has an additional felony class with offenses that are not included in any other felony classification. This class is sometimes referred to as Class U or Unclassified and includes criminal offenses such as certain sex offenses, shoplifting, grand larceny, and drug possession.

What is unique about Class U felonies is that each crime and suggested minimum sentence is described in its statute. That means a defendant charged with a Class U felony could end up receiving a light sentence or be facing up to 20 years in prison, depending on the crime they are being accused of. If you have been charged with any type of felony, it is important to seek legal help from a skilled criminal defense attorney for your case.

Even the least serious felony charge can land you in prison and result in a long list of negative consequences, such as the loss of your right to carry a firearm and having a permanent criminal record that could affect several aspects of your life for many years. By working with a criminal defense attorney such as the ones at The Law Office of Scott C. Nolan, PLLC, you can increase your chances of having your charges dropped. If that’s not possible, an attorney can help you avoid the maximum sentence and negotiate a plea bargain agreement when feasible. Contact The Law Office of Scott C. Nolan, PLLC, at 703-688-9236 to learn more about how we can help you.