Indiana defines a felony as any crime that carries a penalty of more than one year in prison and up to life imprisonment or the death penalty. Most felonies in Indiana are designated as Level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. For less serious crimes (misdemeanors), the maximum sentence is up to one year in local or county jail.
Indiana divides felonies into six levels with Level 1 felonies being the most serious and Level 6 the least. Each felony level specifies a sentencing range, plus an advisory sentence that serves as a guideline. Judges can also impose fines of up to $10,000 for a felony conviction.
Below are the sentencing ranges set for each felony level and examples of crimes that fall under each classification.
Murder is an unclassified felony for which three possible sentences exist—a fixed sentence of 45 to 55 years' imprisonment, a life sentence without parole, or the death penalty.
Level 1 felonies are punishable by 20 to 40 years' imprisonment. The law sets the advisory sentence at 30 years in prison. Examples of Level 1 felonies include aggravated rape by use of deadly force or weapon, drug dealing resulting in death, and home invasion (resulting in serious bodily injuries).
A person convicted of a level 2 felony faces 10 to 30 years in prison (advisory sentence of 17 ½ years). Level 2 felonies include voluntary manslaughter, child sex trafficking, and kidnapping for ransom.
Level 3 felonies are punishable by 3 to 16 years in prison (advisory sentence of 9 years). Examples of Level 3 felonies include aggravated battery (causing serious injury to another), fleeing police in a vehicle (resulting in death to another), and child molestation.
Level 4 felonies carry a possible prison sentence of 2 to 12 years' prison time (advisory sentence of 6 years). Examples of Level 4 felonies include arson and unlawful firearm possession by a serious violent felon.
Level 5 felonies carry the potential of 1 to 6 years' imprisonment (advisory sentence of 3 years). Involuntary manslaughter, robbery (no injuries), and criminal recklessness (involving a weapon) are all Level 5 felonies.
The law allows a judge to reduce or convert a Level 6 felony to a Class A misdemeanor under certain circumstances. A reduction or conversion might take place on the court's own initiative, upon a defendant's petition, or by agreement with the prosecutor. Referred to as an alternative misdemeanor sentence (AMS), the timing, procedures, and requirements involved in obtaining this reduced sentence vary depending on which statutory authority applies. Defendants with certain prior felony convictions do not qualify for an AMS.
On the other end of the spectrum, Indiana imposes enhanced penalties for certain repeat felony offenses or felonies involving guns or gangs.
Additional fixed terms. Several circumstances require judges to impose additional fixed incarceration terms onto an offender's sentence. For instance, the state's habitual offender law imposes an additional fixed term ranging from 2 to 20 years for offenders sentenced to a third or subsequent felony conviction. The exact sentence enhancement depends on when the crimes occurred and the felony classification for the current and past convictions. Similar add-on terms apply to defendants convicted of repeat sex offenses, offenses involving a firearm, and offenses committed in furtherance of a gang or terrorism.
Increased felony levels. Depending on the offense, a defendant might face increasing felony penalties for having prior related convictions, targeting a "protected person," or causing serious harm. For instance, felony battery penalties range from a Level 6 to Level 1 felony. Similar enhancements apply to other person offenses, such as kidnapping, sexual misconduct, and robbery. Protected persons include family and household members, children, endangered adults, and public safety officials, among others.
When imposing a felony sentence, the advisory sentence provides a sort-of starting point. Judges may decide to go above or below the advisory sentence after considering a number of factors, such as the defendant's criminal history and personal characteristics and the circumstances of the crime.
Aggravating factors that support a longer sentence or prison time include committing a crime of violence, having a long criminal history, targeting a vulnerable victim, or violating a court order in committing the offense (such as restraining order or probation condition). On the other hand, the judge might consider suspending a sentence or imposing a shorter prison term if mitigating factors exist, such as the defendant's young age and immaturity or amenability to treatment.
After considering these factors and hearing from both parties and victims, the judge will hand down a fixed sentence term based on the felony level. For instance, a judge might sentence an offender convicted of a Level 4 felony to an 8-year prison sentence after deciding aggravating factors support a sentence above the 6-year advisory sentence.
The judge must also specify if the sentence will be executed or suspended. An executed sentence means the defendant will be sent to prison. A suspended sentence will typically be served (at least partially) in the community, conditioned on a defendant's compliance with probation, community corrections program, or community transition program. The judge can suspend the front end or back end of the sentence (before or after prison).
Not all felony convictions lead to prison time. A judge may suspend most felony sentences (unless a minimum sentence applies) and place the offender on probation. Other sentencing alternatives include placement in a problem-solving court, in a community corrections program, or on home detention. In some cases, a prosecutor might offer a felony defendant pretrial diversion and a chance to avoid criminal court and a conviction altogether.
The law allows prosecutors to hold off on pursuing criminal charges conditioned on a defendant's agreement to, and compliance with, diversion terms. Not all prosecutors' offices offer diversion. In those that do, only those charged with certain Level 5 or 6 felonies are eligible. The prosecutor drops the charges if the defendant successfully completes diversion. A violation may result in the prosecutor modifying the terms or resuming the case in court.
If underlying issues (such as addiction) likely played a role in the crime, a judge may defer court proceedings against a defendant who agrees to plead guilty and participate in a problem-solving court. Problem-solving courts involve highly structured programming and intensive supervision by a team of professionals. The team works to address the underlying issue of the criminal behavior, such as substance abuse, mental health issues, or trauma. A judge can dismiss the charges if the defendant successfully completes (graduates from) a problem-solving court. A judge may also refer a defendant to a problem-solving court as a condition of probation or a community corrections program.
Judges may hand down a felony sentence but hold off on sending the offender to prison. The suspended portion of the prison sentence looms over the defendant's head as an incentive to comply with the terms of the suspension. Often judge place offenders on probation or into a community corrections program as part of the suspended sentence.
Probation terms typically include obeying all laws, reporting to a probation officer, maintaining a job or going to school, paying restitution to victims, supporting dependents, avoiding contact with victims, and attending treatment or counseling. Those placed in a community corrections program will generally receive more structured supervision through home detention, electronic monitoring, residential or work release, or day treatment or reporting centers.
An offender who violates the terms of their probation or community corrections faces modified terms, additional terms, or revocation.
If the judge sends the offender to prison, the fixed sentence represents the maximum amount of time an offender can spend under correctional supervision (with some exceptions). Some inmates will be released earlier by earning (and keeping) good-time and educational credits for good behavior or achievement of specified goals in prison. Inmates might shave off as much as 75% of their sentence (although somewhere in the range of 10 to 30% is more realistic).
When announcing a prison sentence, a judge will indicate if the inmate must be released to court supervision after completing their prison sentence or upon early release. Court supervision typically takes the form of probation or placement in a community transition program.
Offenders not released to court supervision will be placed on "parole" or discharged upon completing their sentence. Parole refers to conditional release before an inmate completes their fixed sentence. In Indiana, an inmate must earn parole by accumulating good-time and educational credits. (Indiana abolished its use of discretionary release decisions made by a parole board.)
Most defendants will be placed on parole for the remainder of their fixed sentence or for a fixed period of one to two years. However, sex offenders face 10 years or lifetime parole.
Like probation, parolees must abide by terms to stay on parole. For instance, parolees must obey all laws and may be required to submit to electronic tracking, random drug tests, or random searches. Other conditions might include actively seeking or maintaining employment, obeying no-contact orders, attending counseling or treatment programs, or participating in a reentry court program. A parolee who violates any of their terms faces revocation and a return to prison.
Indiana law permits the sealing or expunging of many low-level and less serious felonies. Eligibility depends on the person remaining crime-free and waiting a set time period following conviction or completion of their sentence. Not all felonies qualify for expungement, such as homicide offenses, violent offenses, sex offenses, and human trafficking. Learn more about Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Indiana.
If you are charged with a felony, contact a criminal defense lawyer in Indiana for help. All felony convictions carry serious consequences, and the stigma of a criminal record can last long after a sentence is served or a fine is paid.
(Ind. Code §§ 33-23-16-14; 33-39-1-8; 35-38-1-1.5; 35-38-2.6-2; 35-38-9-4, -5, -7; 35-44.1-3-1; 35-45-10-5; 35-46-1-12; 35-50-2-1, -2.2, -3, -4 , -4.5, -5, -5.5, -6, -7, -8, -14; 35-50-6-1 (2021).)