In the US justice system a felony charge often considered the most serious. The main difference between misdemeanor charges and felonies is that those convicted will be sentenced to a prison term that can range from one year to life. Also, individuals that commit the most heinous crimes can be put to death if convicted of a felony. There has been some controversy surrounding jurisdictions that have elected to prosecute minors as adults, which usually results in more serious penalties for the juvenile offenders.
Before an accused person can be convicted or acquitted of a felony charge, state prosecutors must gather enough evidence to substantiate their claims. Unless the suspect pleads guilty a trial occur. Usually, the suspect can successfully petition for a jury trial. For both the prosecution and the defense, the jury selection process is crucial. Potential jurors will be asked a number of questions, and their responses can be used to eliminate or nominated.
Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney can also request postponements. Usually, this only occurs if one or both sides needs more time to track down witnesses or gather evidence. If the accused has a previous criminal record it can be used against he or she during the trial. Alternatively, suspects without an arrest record can use this fact to his or her benefit. Ultimately, the judge or jury must make a decision based upon a preponderance of the evidence. The term that is used to describe this degree of law is referred to, 'beyond a reasonable doubt.'
If convicted, a sentencing date will be set. Here the defense will make one final argument for leniency, and victim impact statements can be made by the victim as well as anyone else negatively effected by the crime. Acquitted persons can petition the court to have their arrest records expunged, and so go as far as suing the police, prosecutors and judges involved in their cases if they feel that they unjustly accused.
The appeals process allows people convicted of a felony to request a trial whether they are imprisoned or not. If granted, an appeal hearing before the state's Supreme Court will occur. Using previous cases as well as state law to come to a determination, the decision handed down by the Supreme Court is almost always final. Because felony charges are usually not filed unless the prosecution feels that there is enough evidence available to lead to a conviction, defendants will often enter into a plea bargain arrangement that will allow them to escape long-term prison sentences. Some defendants that turn states evidence can implicate others in exchange for clemency. Depending on the charges filed, these defendants are usually required to wear recording device while communicating with other suspects so that solid proof is established.