Alabama divides criminal offenses into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and violations. Felonies are crimes that potentially carry a sentence of more than a year in state prison or death.
There are four different classes of felonies, from the most serious (Class A) to the least serious (Class D). The laws describing each particular crime specify the category and class for that offense.
Alabama law sets out a standard range of prison sentences that judges may impose for each class of felony. If you’re convicted of (or plead guilty to) a felony, the sentence you receive will depend on the classification of the crime, as well as the circumstances and other factors such as your previous criminal history.
In general, Class A felonies are punishable by life in prison or a definite term of 10 to 99 years. Anyone convicted of murder with aggravated circumstances who was an adult at the time of the crime must be sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.
Some examples of Class A felonies in Alabama:
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, 13A-6-43, 13A-6-61, 13A-6-130, 13A-7-5 (2020).)
Alabama’s standard sentence range for a Class B felony is two to 20 years imprisonment. Some examples of Class B felonies:
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, 13A-6-3, 13A-6-20, 13A-6-62, 13A-8-3 (2020).)
The standard sentence for a Class C felony in Alabama is a term between 366 days and 10 years. Class C felonies include:
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, 13A-6-90, 13A-8-43, 13A-6-45, 13A-7-80, 13A-8-11 (2012).)
A Class D felony carries a standard sentence of 366 days to five years. Examples include:
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, 13A-8-4.1, 13A-9-14, 13A-12-212 (2020).)
For some felonies, you might receive a split sentence—meaning that you’ll spend part of the time in confinement and the rest of the time on probation. If you’ve been sentenced to 20 years or less for a Class A or B felony (other than a sex offense with a child), the judge may order a split sentence. However, you must receive a split sentence if you’ve been convicted of a Class C or D felony, unless:
The period of confinement for a split sentence may be in prison, a jail-type alternative, or a treatment facility. Class C felons may also be confined in a community corrections program, while Class D felons must be sent to this type of jail alternative. (Ala. Code § 15-8-8 (2020).)
Within the standard range of prison sentences for the different classes of felonies, Alabama also requires a minimum sentence under certain circumstances. If you used or tried to use a gun or other deadly weapon while you committed the crime, the minimum is 20 years for a Class A felony and 10 years for a Class B or C felony.
The same minimums also apply for Class A or B felony sex offenses involving a child, except that certain serious sex offenses by adults (21 or over) against very young victims (six or younger) require a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
If you’re convicted of a crime that was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived ethnicity, national origin, religion, or disability, Alabama requires the following minimum sentences:
(Ala. Code § 13A-5-6, 13A-5-13 (2020).)
Defendants with previous felony convictions will face longer sentences for subsequent felonies. The length of the enhanced penalties depend on the class of the current felony, the number of prior felony convictions, and sometimes the class of those prior convictions.
If you have one prior conviction for a Class A, B, or C felony, your sentence for a current Class B or C felony will bump up to the next class. If your current conviction is for a Class A felony, the minimum sentence is increased to 15 years. (Ala. Code § 13A-5-9(a) (2020).)
If you have two prior convictions for Class A, B, or C felonies, your sentence will be increased for a current felony in any of those classes as follows:
(Ala. Code § 13A-5-9(b), (d) (2020).)
Three prior convictions felony convictions increase the sentence for a current felony as follows:
(Ala. Code § 13A-5-9(c), (e) (2020).)
In addition to a sentence of imprisonment for a felony, the judge may order you to pay a fine up to the following maximum amounts (unless a specific crime calls for a higher fine):
In the alternative, the fine could be based on how much money or property you gained from the crime or how much the victim lost, up to twice that amount. (Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-2, 13A-5-11 (2020).)
All states, including Alabama, have laws (known as criminal “statutes of limitations”) that set a time limit on when prosecutors can charge someone with certain crimes. The "clock" starts running when the alleged crime happened. In Alabama, the general statute of limitations for felonies is five years. However, there are many exceptions to the five-year limit, including no time limit at all for prosecuting a number of serious crimes—including any felonies involving actual or threatened violence to the victim, arson, forgery, and drug trafficking. For details, see our article on the criminal statutes of limitations in Alabama.
A felony conviction could result in serious, long-term consequences. If you’re facing felony charges in Alabama, you should speak with a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system, Alabama law, and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or in plea bargaining. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, help you make decisions about your case, and protect your rights throughout the criminal proceedings.
Look Out for Legal Changes
States can change their laws at any time. You can check the current version of any statute mentioned in this article by clicking on the link to the Code of Alabama on the Library of Congress Guide to Law Online. However, you should know that court opinions can affect how judges interpret and apply the law, which is another good reason to speak with an attorney if you're concerned about actual or potential criminal charges.