What is a felony?

A felony is the most serious level of offense in Minnesota. It is defined as any crime that is punishable by more than 1 year in prison. Many felony offenses are subject to mandatory minimum sentences (e.g. certain drug offenses or certain offenses committed with a dangerous weapon). Offenses that are typically categorized as a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor can become felony-level offenses under statutory enhancement provisions. A sentence can be enhanced to a felony-level based on previous convictions for the same or similar offenses. Minnesota DWI laws are a good example of how a misdemeanor-level offense can be enhanced to a felony. Typically a first-time DWI is sentenced as a misdemeanor. However, if a person has three DWI convictions within the past 10 years, the fourth DWI will be charged as a felony.

In addition to incarceration and fines, a conviction for a felony-level offense also brings about certain "collateral consequences." Collateral consequences are legal sanctions that follow a criminal conviction. Typical collateral consequences for felony convictions include the following: loss of the right to vote, loss of the right to possess a firearm, the loss of a professional license. For lawful immigrants, a felony conviction can result in the loss of permanent legal residency.