If it’s been awhile since your last criminal justice refresher course, you might be using the terms “capital offense” and “felony” interchangeably. Legally, there’s a significant difference between a felony and a capital offense in Lexington, KY.

Capital offenses are, in short, crimes that are punishable by the death penalty, while felonies in Kentucky are punishable by a year or more of jail time. All capital offenses are felonies, but not all felonies are capital offenses—which is a good thing.

What is a capital offense?

In Kentucky, capital offenses are serious crimes that carry the possibility of a death sentence—in this state, murder and kidnapping are the two capital crimes. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 507.020, 509.040, 532.030 (2019) provides that capital offenses can also be punished by life without parole, 25 years to life in prison or 20 to 50 years’ imprisonment.

As you might imagine, taking the life of a convicted prisoner is a very serious matter, which is why only the most serious state and federal crimes are capital offenses. While prison sentences and other consequences can be reversed to some extent, should the conviction be overturned, death is permanent and should only be used in the strongest of cases. Many times, prosecutors, judges and juries will opt for the lesser—but still quite severe—punishments.

What are felonies?

Kentucky felonies are crimes that are punishable by a year or more in prison, whereas misdemeanors are those that are punishable by less than a year. State statutes list the punishments associated with those crimes.

Felonies are divided into four classes:

  • Class A felonies: Class A felonies are punishable by 20 to 50 years’ imprisonment, or life. For example, murder, first-degree rape (rape of a child under 12), some armed robberies and some drug crimes are considered Class A felonies—these tend to be the most severe state crimes.
  • Class B felonies: These felonies, which include rape, sodomy, first-degree manslaughter and more are punishable by 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
  • Class C felonies: Class C felonies can be punished by five to 10 years in prison, and include property theft between $10,000 and under $1,000,000. Unauthorized use of a credit card is a Class C felony, as is second-degree manslaughter and assault.
  • Class D felonies: These felonies are punishable by one to five years in prison. Cultivating more than five marijuana plants could get you charged with a Class D felony, for example.

When a person is convicted of a felony and is due for sentencing, the judge will consider whether they have any prior felony convictions, and for what—repeat offenders typically receive harsher punishments, since they should have known better from prior experience. Felonies are also punishable by fines, which can range from $1,000 to $10,000, or twice the amount that the person gained from their crime, whichever is greater.

Knowing the difference between a capital offense and a felony in Lexington, KY can help you understand what’s at stake when someone is charged. If you or a loved one are dealing with a felony charge, Oakley and Oakley LLC can help—call us today for a consultation.