Under Mississippi law, any crime that may be punished by death or incarceration in state prison is considered a felony. (Miss. Code § 1-3-11 (2020).)
Unlike many states, Mississippi doesn’t have different classes or categories of felonies. Instead, the state’s criminal statutes spell out the possible penalties for each individual crime. If those penalties include time in state prison (in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections), the crime is a felony, whether or not the statute describes it as such.
Examples of felonies (and the penalties) in Mississippi include:
(Miss. Code §§ 41-29-115, 41-29-139(c)(1)(B), 97-3-7, 97-3-21, 97-3-75, 97-3-107, 97-17-23, 97-17-41, 97-23-107 (2020).)
Some criminal statutes in Louisiana provide for possible sentences in county jail or state prison. For example:
(Miss. Code §§ 97-3-7, 97-3-25 (2020).)
Generally, crimes that are punishable by time in county jail and/or a fine are considered misdemeanors in Mississippi. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that whenever a court or jury has the option of sentencing a convicted defendant to jail or prison, the crime is considered a felony regardless of the actual sentence. That means any crimes with a maximum possible punishment in state prison are felonies, even if a convicted defendant is sentenced to county jail under the lesser alternative punishment. (Anthony v. State, 349 So.2d 1066 (Miss. 1977).)
Generally, there’s a time limit (referred to as the “statute of limitations”) for bringing criminal charges; the time period usually starts when the alleged crime took place. The standard criminal statute of limitations in Mississippi is two years. However, the state exempts a long list of felonies—including murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, and larceny—which means prosecutors may bring charges for these crimes at any time. A few other crimes, such as felony abuse of a vulnerable person or assistance-program fraud, have five- or six-year limits. (Miss. Code § 99-1-5 (2020).)
A felony conviction becomes part of your permanent criminal record. Prior felony convictions could mean harsher sentences for new crimes. Being a convicted felon can also hurt you when you are looking for a job and applying to rent a house or apartment. And the Mississippi Constitution permanently strips the right to vote from people previously convicted of a number of crimes, including murder, rape, forgery, and theft—a list that has been expanded by the state’s attorney general (Miss. Const. art. 12, § 240).
Because of these serious long-term consequences of a conviction, it’s especially critical that you speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible if you’re facing felony charges. An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges, explore plea options and negotiate a favorable plea bargain (which could include pleading guilty to lesser charges), and represent you at trial if it comes to that. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.
The Mississippi legislature can change its laws at any time, but you search the Mississippi Code to find the current versions of statutes discussed in this article. But you should know that court opinions may affect how the laws are interpreted and applied—another good reason to speak with a local criminal defense lawyer if you’re concerned about actual or potential criminal charges.