1902 Encyclopedia > Felony

Felony




FELONY. In English law crimes are divided into felonies and misdemeanours. The difference between them does not depend on their gravity as offences, nor on the amount of punishment attached to them,—it is purely his-torical. Felonies are those crimes which at common law brought with them after conviction forfeiture of goods. Since the Felony Act, noticed below, this is no longer an existing ground of distinction. Legal writers have sought to throw light on the nature of felony by examining the etymology of the word. One derivation suggested is from the Greek _____, an impostor. Others connect it with the Latin verb folio. Coke says it is crimen animo felleo per-petratum (a crime committed with malicious or evil intent). Spelman connects it with the word fee, signifying fief or feud; and felony in this way would be equivalent to pretium feudi, an act for which a man lost or gave up his fee (see Stephen's Blackstone, vol. iv. p. 7). And it appears that acts involving forfeiture were styled felonies in feudal law, although they had nothing of a criminal character about them. A breach of duty on the part of the vassal, neglect of service, delay in seeking investiture, and othe like were felonies. Injuries by the lord against the vassal were also felonies. In course of time felonies came to mean capital crimes, although there were a few felonies not punishable by death, and a few capital crimes which were not regarded as felonies. It became a principle of law that when a crime was declared by statute to be a felony, the punishment of death with forfeiture of land and goods necessarily attached (Blackstone's Commentaries, iv. 94). Blackstone accordingly makes felony include all capital crimes below treason. " Every person convicted of any felony for which no punishment is specially provided by the law in force for the time being is liable upon con-viction thereof to be sentenced to penal servitude for any period not exceeding seven years, or to be imprisoned with or without hard labour and solitary confinement for any term not exceeding two years, and if a male to be once, twice, or thrice publicly or privately whipped in addition to such imprisonment " (Stephen's Digest of the Criminal Law, art. 18). The only practical distinction between felony and misdemeanour is that for the former arrests may be made by private persons acting without judicial authority. The Felony Act, 1870, abolished forfeitures for felony.








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