Under Mississippi law, any crime that may be punished by death or incarceration in state prison is considered a felony.
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, 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 §§ 1-3-11, 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 (2023).)
Some criminal statutes in Mississippi provide for possible sentences in county jail or state prison. For example:
Generally, crimes that are punishable by time in county jail 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.
(Miss. Code §§ 97-3-7, 97-3-25 (2023); Anthony v. State, 349 So.2d 1066 (Miss. 1977).)
In some instances, Mississippi law allows a judge to sentence beyond the maximum penalty for a crime. These sentence enhancements can double one's sentence or send them to prison for life.
Mississippi law imposes harsh enhancements for repeat felony offenders. When sentencing a defendant for a third felony conviction, the court must impose the maximum term of imprisonment, and the defendant is not eligible for probation or parole. If any of those felonies was a crime of violence, the defendant will face a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
(Miss. Code §§ 99-19-81, 99-19-83 (2023).)
A judge may double a person's sentence if it's determined they committed a felony hate crime based on either:
(Miss. Code § 99-19-307 (2023).)
A judge can also double a person's sentence if they commit any of the following crimes against a person age 65 or older or a person with a disability:
(Miss. Code §§ 99-19-351, 99-19-357 (2023).)
Mississippi judges must sentence a defendant to a maximum prison term (rather than a range), such as sentencing a defendant to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The judge then decides whether to send the defendant directly to prison to start serving the sentence or allow an alternative to incarceration. For instance, a judge may suspend the prison sentence and place the defendant on probation or intensive supervised probation.
Probation generally allows a defendant to serve all or part of their sentence in the community rather than behind bars. While on probation, the defendant must obey terms set by the court. These terms often include remaining law abiding, maintaining employment, reporting to a probation officer, and abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Successful completion of probation means the sentence is complete. A violation of probation, however, can result in graduated sanctions or revocation.
Not every defendant qualifies for an alternative sentence such as probation. Mississippi law typically disqualifies probation eligibility for defendants subject to enhanced sentences (such as habitual offenders) or convicted of crimes of violence, sex crimes, or crimes punishable by a death or life sentence.
(Miss. Code §§ 47-5-1003, 47-7-33, 47-7-37, 47-7-37.1, 47-7-38, 47-7-41 (2023).)
For defendants sent to prison, their release date will depend on their convicted offense and behavior in prison.
Defendants sentenced for nonviolent offenses (including drug offenses) become eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. Violent offenders must serve at least 50 to 60% of their sentence before becoming parole eligible. Many offenders don't qualify for parole, including habitual offenders, sex offenders, capital offenders, and persons convicted of human trafficking or drug trafficking.
Parole eligibility doesn't necessarily equal release. It means the person can apply for parole. Some inmates can qualify for parole without a hearing if they have a clean disciplinary record and have met other requirements. While on parole, a parolee must abide by their conditions of parole or risk heading back to prison.
(Miss. Code § 47-7-3 (2023).)
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 law provides longer limitation periods for many felonies. And some felonies have no statute of limitations, which means a prosecutor can file charges at any time. These felonies include murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, and larceny. (Miss. Code § 99-1-5 (2023).)
if you're facing felony charges, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Being convicted of a felony in Mississippi can mean harsh prison sentences and fines, as well as impact you later on in life. Having a felony record makes it more difficult to find a job 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, § 241 (2023).)