While the basics of what constitutes a felony crime are more or less uniform across the United States, each state has its own approach to defining and prosecuting felonies. Georgia is no exception. If you or a loved one live in and have been arrested and charged with a felony in Georgia, it can be helpful to know how the state approaches felonies.
But the most important thing you should know is that being charged with a felony is not the same as being convicted of a felony. It is the responsibility of the state of Georgia to prove your guilt, and at the Busbee Law Group it is our job to prove your innocence. And with a history of clients who have seen charges reduced or dismissed completely, it’s a job we take seriously.
What is Georgia’s Definition of a Felony?
The consequences for a felony are generally much higher than misdemeanors. They also carry a longer statute of limitations, with the state having the ability to pursue charges four years after the fact, or as long as seven years for crimes against minors. For crimes like murder, there is no statute of limitations.
The general definition of a felony definitely applies within the state of Georgia. In short, it is a criminal offense that carries with it a prison sentence of between one and 20 years. It can also mean life in prison or the death penalty. Considered some of the most serious crimes a person can commit, felonies often involve some element of violence or acts that could be dangerous to the public.
There are several types of felonies, ranging from crimes against people (murder, assault) or property (robbery, arson) to crimes that involve fraud or endanger the public, such as acts of terrorism. The state of Georgia, however, has its own classification of felonies that are commonly called “The Seven Deadly Sins.”
The Seven Deadly Sins
In the state of Georgia, a particular group of crimes is prosecuted at a much higher level than other felonies, carrying with them 10 years in jail without the possibility of parole. A second conviction of any of these offenses carries with it a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
These “Seven Deadly Sins” are:
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated sexual battery
It is worth noting that while each of these crimes carries a 10-year prison sentence minimum, in the case of murder that requirement jumps to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole until at least 25 years have been served. Murder could also potentially mean the death penalty.
Even outside of these seven crimes in particular, Georgia law carries several stipulations when it comes to felonies. For example, a second conviction of any felony offense apart from one of these seven will result in a full sentence without possibility for parole. Most second offenses will require the maximum sentence lengths, but the judge can probate or suspend all parts of the sentence. Beyond a second offense, the law gets even more strict. For example, 3 offenses require the maximum sentence length, but the judge cannot suspend or probate any portion, and there is no eligibility for parole
Georgia’s “Three Strikes Rule” Law
Technically, this law imposes strict penalties upon the fourth offense rather than the third, but regardless it shows that the State of Georgia is not afraid to throw the book at repeat offenders. Under the tenets of this law, anyone who has been convicted of three felonies in Georgia or elsewhere, will serve the maximum legal sentence for a fourth conviction. The judge will not be legally able to reduce sentencing, there will be no early release and no opportunity for parole until the maximum sentence has been served.
What Are the Maximum Penalties?
More serious crimes carry stricter penalties in the state of Georgia. These will vary case-by-case, but it essentially boils down to the following:
- Sexual battery of a child*, obstructing a police officer has a sentence of 5 years in prison.
- 2nd Degree Burglary has a sentence of 5 years in prison.
- Theft by extortion, aggravated stalking has a sentence of 10 years in prison.
- Armed carjacking, aggravated assault or battery has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Armed Robbery has a sentence of Life in prison.
- Child Molestation has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Aggravated Child Molestation has a sentence of Life in prison.
- Aggravated Sexual Battery has a sentence of Life in prison.
- 1st Degree Burglary has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Statutory Rape has a sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Incest, enticement of a child under 16 years of age has a sentence of 30 years in prison.
- Second-degree murder has a sentence of 30 years in prison.
- Kidnapping has a sentence of 10-20 years in prison.
- Rape has a sentence of 25 years or Life in prison.
- Murder with aggravating circumstances has a Death penalty sentence.
* Under Georgia law, a child in this scenario is anyone 16 years or younger.
What Penalties Exist Beyond Sentencing?
Even those who have been convicted of a felony and served their time find that the punishment continues long after they have been freed from jail. Unless you are acquitted or apply for a record restriction, a felony conviction remains on your criminal record for life, which will make it much harder to seek out a loan, obtain housing, get a job or retain custody of children. If you are granted a record restriction, your felony conviction will only be visible to government officials and law enforcement, but not to the general public. Otherwise, they will be a matter of public record.
There are also several civil liberties and privileges that can be taken away as the result of a felony conviction. Some are temporary, but some are permanent. They include:
Voting rights: Under Georgia law, you lose your right to vote upon conviction until your sentence has been served.
Second amendment rights: In the state of Georgia, anyone with a felony conviction is forbidden from receiving, possessing, or transporting a firearm without express permission from the government.
Right to run for office: Any person whose record contains a felony of “moral turpitude” is forbidden from holding office in the state of Georgia for at least 10 years following conviction.
Right to travel: As a convicted felon, you may hold a passport, but other countries may bar you from entry based on your criminal record.
Custody rights: A felony conviction on your record could lead a judge to reject your rights to retain custody of your children.
Rights to public benefits: A felony conviction could have a negative impact on your eligibility for social benefit programs ranging from public housing and food stamps to state and federal grants and financial assistance.
Driving privileges: Conviction of certain drug- or vehicular-related felonies can lead to your driver’s license being suspended for a set period of time or revoked entirely.
Possible registration as a sex offender
How Can Charges be Dropped or Reduced?
There are several circumstances under Georgia law in which charges for a felony can be reduced or dropped altogether, or in which jail time can be reduced. One example is the set of crimes referred to as reducible felonies, in which a judge has the ability to sentence a defendant to a misdemeanor sentence rather than a felony sentence. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a Superior Court Judge may be allowed to issue a probated sentence, wherein you remain free on probation. They may also hand down a split sentence which sentences a defendant to a prison sentence followed by a period of probation.
Of course, if you are found not guilty in a court of law, all charges against you can be dropped.
What Alternatives Exist to Jail Time?
If you have been charged with a felony, there are several strategies you can employ to ensure you remain free from jail. Depending on how backed up the courts are, and the amount of preparation needed by the defense and prosecution, it can take some time before your case goes to trial. This gives you ample time to devise a strategy.
For those facing their first conviction, Georgia’s First Offender Act could allow you to avoid conviction altogether by completing a proscribed set of requirements. For starters, this must be your first conviction total, not just in the state of Georgia. The nature of your alleged crime also factors into your eligibility. Those charged with violent crime, DUI, sexual offenses or child pornography charges do not qualify.
There is also the possibility for first-time offenders to qualify for a pretrial diversion program. Offered only to those who have never been arrested or convicted of misdemeanors or felonies, this program aims to create an alternative to the criminal justice system via a series of counseling sessions and life skill classes designed to rehabilitate rather than simply punish. One huge advantage of this program is that upon completion, a judge can potentially sign a dismissal order for the case, clearing up your criminal past.
Finally, there is the possibility of a suspended sentence under certain conditions. A suspended sentence converts jail time into probation time for a certain period of time. In a suspended sentence, successful completion of the probation period would effectively end the sentence.
Even if you are charged and convicted, you may also appeal that conviction by filing an appeal, requesting a conviction be overturned and requesting a new trial. These cases would be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals for most felonies excluding murder, which would be appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Don’t let the fear of a felony conviction take control of your mind and life. There are infinite defenses to felony charges and with the right attorney in your corner, you can have the felony charge reduced or dismissed. Take back control of your life and future. Submit your contact information below to schedule a free, no obligation consultation with the legal team at the Busbee Law Group.