What is a felony?
It is a serious crime, serious enough that, depending on the crime, the punishment upon conviction in Kentucky may be a sentence of up to 50 years or life in prison. At the least, the punishment may be a prison sentence of a year or more, served in a state penitentiary and/or a county jail.
If you or your loved one has been charged with a felony crime in Kentucky, you need to understand that, if convicted, you’re facing the very real possibility of years in prison and a heavy fine. The first step in developing a defense to be used in court against the charges should be to contact a Lexington felony defense lawyer like Dan Carman.
Types of Felonies
Kentucky Revised Statute 532.020, Designation of Offenses, divides felony crimes into classes. Depending on the severity of the crime, the sentence upon conviction can range from one year in prison to as much as 50 years or life in prison.
Class D felonies, while serious, generally result in the shortest sentencing term: one to no more than five years in prison. Examples of Class D felonies include possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; unauthorized use of a credit card involving a sum of money between $500 and $1,000; stalking in the first degree; possession of a controlled substance; and wanton endangerment in the first degree. A person charged with a fourth offense of driving under the influence, for example, may also be found guilty of a Class D felony.
Class C felonies include such crimes as unauthorized and unlawful access to a computer, unauthorized use of a credit card involving $10,000 or more, assault in the second degree, and manslaughter in the second degree, and trafficking in a controlled substance (over a certain amount). Conviction for a Class C felony can result in a prison sentence of at least five and no more than 10 years in state prison.
Class B felonies are punishable by prison terms of 10 to more than 20 years in prison. In Kentucky, crimes that fall under the Class B designation include manslaughter in the first degree, and sex-related crimes like sodomy and rape, among others.
Class A felonies are considered the most serious offenses. Examples of Class A felonies include murder, malicious wounding, certain armed robberies, grand larceny, rape of a child under the age of 12, and certain drug-related crimes. A person convicted of a Class A felony faces a prison sentence of 20 to 50 years, or life imprisonment.
Persistent Felony Offender: If a person who stands convicted of felony is at least 21 years old, has been convicted of a prior felony, and was at least 18 years old at the time of the previous conviction, then he or she can be assigned additional penalties. In Kentucky, those who re-commit felonies are called “persistent felony offenders” (PFO), but these felonies do have to take place within certain time periods of each other.
Felony Conviction Process
A person (“the defendant”) suspected of committing a crime may be arrested and charged at the scene of the crime by a law enforcement officer, or may have charges brought against them at a later time because of complaints made by a witness or by a victim of the alleged crime. (In Kentucky, there is no statute of limitations on felony crimes, so charges can be brought years after the alleged crime was committed.)
After the arrest, the defendant is brought before a judge in district court (a court of limited jurisdiction in Kentucky) for an initial appearance, or arraignment, where the defendant’s charges are read and the defendant’s bond is reviewed. The amount of the bond will depend on an assessment conducted by the Pretrial Services Office which determines a defendant’s level of risk to flee and/or endanger the community. The judge will look at the seriousness of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and whether the defendant is likely to return to court for further proceedings.
The next step in the process—unless the defendant waives the right or the prosecutor takes the case directly to the grand jury for direct indictment—is a preliminary hearing, where both the complainant (who may be the arresting officer) and the defendant have an opportunity to present evidence in the form of testimony by any witnesses to help the judge determine whether there is enough evidence to show that there is probable cause to believe a felony was committed by the defendant. If the judge decides there is enough evidence, the case will be bound over to a grand jury.
The grand jury, which is made up of jurors chosen to serve over a typically a four-month period and meeting at least (usually) twice a month in their own county, convenes to hear testimony and evidence concerning the defendant’s charges. If the grand jury, after hearing the evidence, decides there is enough evidence to support probable cause for a charge, they issue an indictment, or a true bill against the defendant.
Following issuance of the indictment, the defendant appears before the judge for the first time in circuit court for arraignment. Once the judge reads the exact charges, the defendant will then enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, he or she may be doing so because of a plea agreement that has been reached ahead of time. A plea agreement includes terms of punishment for the defendant recommended by the Commonwealth and avoids the time and expense of a trial.
The next step in the process is often a pre-trial hearing before the circuit court judge, also commonly known in some jurisdictions as a pre-trial conference. Here the parties provide a list of witnesses for the upcoming trial and attempt to identify and resolve disputed issues before the trial. If it hasn’t already happened, the defendant may be offered a plea agreement by the prosecutor at or before the pretrial conference. Also, not uncommonly, a number of pretrial conferences and/or routine status hearings may take place before a trial. Often, cases are resolved before trial. If not, however, …
The circuit court trial occurs next. A jury is selected, sides give their opening statements (unless reserved for later by the defendant), and then the prosecutor presents witnesses for testimony. Each witness is questioned (examined) by the prosecutor, and then may be cross-examined by the defense lawyer. Exhibits may be introduced and entered into the record during testimony. Once the prosecutor’s case is completed, the defendant’s case is presented, with witnesses providing testimony and exhibits for the defendant’s side. Once all witness testimony is completed, each side’s attorney presents closing arguments, where they summarize the facts of the case and attempt to persuade the jury of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The judge then gives the jury instructions and the jury leaves the courtroom to deliberate. The jury returns to the courtroom after they have reached a unanimous verdict and the verdict is read. (If a jury can’t reach a decision, the result is a “hung jury,” which results in a mistrial and, perhaps, the scheduling of a new trial.)
However, before sentencing occurs, the judge will order a pre-sentence investigation report (a “PSI” or “PSR”) to learn more about the defendant, including criminal history, employment and economic status, education level, marital and parental status, and whether the defendant has any chemical dependencies or psychiatric problems. The investigator – often a probation officer — will contact the victim or victim’s advocate as well, to find out how he or she was impacted by the crime. The victim also has the opportunity before sentencing to ask for restitution, if applicable, to cover losses and damages.
At sentencing, attorneys for both sides present argument to the judge concerning a proper sentence for the defendant. The defendant is also allowed to speak, and the victim (if they choose to attend) is given an opportunity to speak. Once all arguments have been made, the judge hands down a sentence that can be only as strict as Kentucky’s laws allow.
Are You Facing Felony Charges?
Depending on the crime you or your loved one has been charged with, a guilty verdict can result in years behind bars. If you or your loved one is the breadwinner in the family, your family may also be sentenced—though not by the judge—to years of financial struggle as you or your loved one await completion of the prison sentence.
If faced with felony charges, you should not hesitate. Call Dan Carman today. He has capably represented clients charged with felony crimes in Lexington and throughout Kentucky, and he is ready to help you in your fight for justice.