Felonies in Arkansas are crimes punishable by state prison terms. Arkansas law designates five classes of felonies, and the state retains the death penalty. Less serious crimes, known as misdemeanors, are punishable by terms of up to one year in county or local jail. This article will review felony crimes and penalties.
Arkansas has five felony classes—Y, A, B, C, and D. Class Y felonies are the most serious offenses and class D felonies are the least serious. Some felonies are unclassified and, for these crimes, the sentence will be set forth in the criminal statute. Capital murder carries the death penalty. Below are the statutory maximum sentences authorized by class and examples of crimes within each class.
Capital murder offenses carry life sentences without parole or the death penalty.
Class Y felonies are the most serious crimes in Arkansas not punishable by death. A conviction for a Class Y felony can result in a prison term of 10 to 40 years or life. Examples of class Y felonies include kidnapping, rape, drug trafficking, and drive-by shootings.
Class A felonies in Arkansas are punishable by 6 to 30 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. Examples of class A felonies include domestic battering in the first degree, aggravated residential burglary, and second-degree murder.
Under Arkansas's laws, the sentence for a Class B felony is 5 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Examples of class B felonies include witness intimidation, arming rioters, and sexual extortion.
A Class C felony is punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of class C felonies include theft of a firearm, operating a chop shop, and disarming an officer.
Class D felonies are the least serious felonies in Arkansas, punishable by up to 6 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Examples of class D felonies include reckless burning, abuse of a vulnerable person, and aggravated assault.
The sentence for an unclassified felony is set in statute. For instance, trafficking of fentanyl is an unclassified felony and carries a sentence of 25 to 60 years or life in prison. Performing an abortion is an unclassified felony that carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Certain felony DWIs are also unclassified felonies with penalties ranging from one to 10 years of prison time.
(Ark. Code §§ 5-4-104, 5-4-401 (2023).)
Arkansas law imposes harsh penalties for repeat felony offenders, felony hate crimes, felonies involving a firearm, and felonies committed in the presence of a child.
Repeat felony offenders can face extended felony sentencing terms. These extended terms increase the permitted maximum sentence and, in some cases, the minimum sentence. The length of the extended term depends on the seriousness of current and past offenses, as well as the number of prior convictions. Some of the harshest penalties apply when the current and at least one prior offense were for serious felonies involving violence. (Ark. Code § 5-4-501 (2023).)
Defendants can face an additional sentence term ranging from 6 months to 10 years if their crime purposely targeted a current or former law enforcement officer, first responder, or a family member of either. The same sentencing enhancement applies to felonies targeted at railroad and public transit employees. (Ark. Code §§ 5-4-704, 5-4-705 (2023).)
An additional term of one to 10 years may be added to a sentence for a serious felony involving violence against a place of worship or a violent felony committed in the presence of a child. These enhancements must run consecutively to the underlying felony, meaning the sentences run one after another. (Ark. Code §§ 5-4-702, 5-4-707 (2023).)
A judge may impose an additional sentence term of up to 15 years for any felony offender who committed a felony using a firearm. For subsequent convictions, a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence applies. (Ark. Code §§ 16-19-120, 16-19-121 (2023).)
Arkansas uses a sentencing guidelines system to determine the "presumptive" (or standard) sentence in a felony case. Under these guidelines, the severity of the defendant's current offense and the number and seriousness of prior convictions will determine the standard sentence.
Presumptive (standard) sentence. The judge uses the presumptive sentence as a starting point. If the case involved aggravating factors that suggest a harsher sentence should be imposed, the judge can impose a harsher sentence up to the maximum allowed in statute. The reverse is also true. Mitigating factors might suggest a less severe sentence is appropriate.
Felony probation. Unless the law states otherwise, the judge may decide whether the defendant will serve their sentence in prison or have an opportunity to serve their sentence in the community on probation. Defendants placed on probation must abide by the conditions of probation to stay in the community. A violation can result in sanctions (including jail time) or revocation. Not all felonies are eligible for probation. For instance, the law prohibits probation for the following offenses: murder, treason, most class Y felonies, DWI and BWI, and engaging in a criminal enterprise. (Ark. Code §§ 5-4-301, 19-93-306 (2023).)
Target offenses. Certain "target offenses" may qualify for sentencing to a community correction center, instead of prison. Examples of target offenses include theft, criminal mischief, breaking or entering, felony DWI, hit and runs, drug offenses (not trafficking), and nonviolent class C and D felonies. Community correction facilities offer residential and non-residential programs that provide supervision, treatment services, vocational and education programs, and life skills training to non-violent offenders. (Ark. Code § 16-93-1202 (2023).)
Felony convictions have serious consequences. In addition to prison time, a felony conviction can result in the loss of the right to vote, own a gun, run for public office, or obtain certain professional or business licenses. If you are charged with a felony, talk to an experienced Arkansas criminal defense attorney. A good attorney can explain the legal process to you and help you obtain the best possible outcome in your case. The best way to protect your rights is to work with a qualified criminal defense attorney.