In New York, as in most states, a felony is any crime that carries a potential prison sentence of more than a year. (Any crime that could be punished by incarceration for more than 15 days but less than a year is treated as a misdemeanor in New York.)
Like many states, New York law spells out sentencing guidelines for different classes of felonies (ranging from Class E, the least serious, to Class A-I, the most serious). However, the sentencing rules don’t rest only on those categories; they may also take into account several other factors, including the nature of the crime, the convicted person’s criminal history, and sometimes the circumstances of the current crime.
This article gives a general overview of how sentencing works, the different kinds of felony sentences, and the main factors that affect how long a convicted felon might spend in prison.
Prison sentences for felonies in New York are generally either for indeterminate or determinate sentences. However, some felons may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Indeterminate sentences are for minimum and maximum amount of time in prison, such as three to seven years, or 25 years to life. Once prisoners have served the minimum term, they’re eligible to be considered for release on parole. If they’re denied parole, they won’t serve more than the maximum terms.
Prison sentences will be indeterminate for most felonies, except for certain violent felonies, drug crimes, and sex crimes (as discussed below). In general, the minimum term must be at least a year, and the maximum must be at least three years. But New York law also sets out specific allowed minimum and maximum terms for each felony class.
When a defendant is convicted of a class D or E felony (and hasn’t been sentenced for a prior felony within the past 10 years), the judge has the option of imposing a fixed sentence for a year or less, instead of an indeterminate sentence, if that’s warranted by the nature and circumstances of the crime, as well as the defendant’s history and character.
The minimum and maximum terms for indeterminate sentences are higher if the defendant has been sentenced for a previous felony within the past 10 years. There are also special rules for defendants with two or more previous felony convictions. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00, 70.06, 70.08, 70.40 (2019).)
Determinate sentences are for a set period of time that the convicted person must spend in prison. New York law also requires an additional period of post-release supervision after the person has served the determinate prison sentence.
Under current New York law, judges must use determinate sentences for certain crimes, including some violent felonies, drug felonies, and sex felonies (including certain felonies like assault or homicide that were committed for sexual gratification). The law sets out the ranges of allowed terms for prison and post-release supervision for these types of crimes, according to the felony classification. The sentence ranges are higher when the defendant has had a previous felony conviction and even higher when that prior conviction was for a violent felony.
Some crimes that clearly involve violence (such as murder) are not considered a “violent felony offense” for the purpose of the sentencing rules, and some crimes that don’t involve actual violence (such as possession of 10 or more guns) are considered violent felonies. It all depends on which crimes are currently listed in the law on sentencing for violent felonies. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 70.00(6), 70.02, 70.45, 70.70, 70.71, 70.80 (2019).)
A sentence of life without parole (for certain serious felonies like murder or terrorism) means what it says—the prisoner will never be eligible for parole or conditional release. (N.Y. Penal Law § 70.0(5) (2019).)
In addition to a prison sentence—or instead of prison in some cases—judges may impose some combination of other penalties for many felony convictions, including:
As for prison sentences, New York law has a schedule of possible probation terms, period of conditional discharge, and fine amounts, according to the classification and nature of the crime. (N.Y. Penal Law §§ 60.01, 65.00, 65.05, 65.15, 80.00 (2019).)
Here are just a few examples of felonies, according to their classification under New York law:
(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 120.05, 125.13, 150.20, 155.30, 160.15, 220.18, 220.77 (2019).)
It’s very important that you talk to a qualified criminal defense attorney if you’re facing felony charges in New York. The state’s sentencing rules are extremely complex and can lead to substantial time in prison if you’re convicted. Even after you’ve served your sentence, a felony conviction can have serious long-term consequences. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can explain how the law applies to your situation, help you prepare the best defense possible under the circumstances, and work with you to negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that’s appropriate.
Look Out for Changes in New York’s Laws
New York may change its sentencing laws any time, but you can find the current version of any statute discussed in this article by searching the New York Legislature's website. Court decisions might also affect how the state’s laws are interpreted and applied, which is another good reason to speak with a lawyer if you’re concerned about potential or actual criminal charges.