Is a Third-Degree Felony More Serious than a First-Degree?

"John was charged with a second-degree felony," "Marion faces a third-degree felony charge," "Chris was convicted of a first-degree felony." At some point, you might have encountered statements such as those. You might also have wondered what the different degrees mean: Do they identify an offense? Is one more severe than another?

In Utah, the degree of a charge is what distinguishes the seriousness of an offense. Although it might seem like third degree is a higher-level crime than first degree (after all, three is a bigger number than one), the opposite is actually true. A first-degree offense is considered more serious than a third-degree, and, as such, it carries harsher penalties. However, it's not the highest category of felony. Utah also has a capital felony category, which applies to the most severe crimes.

What Are the Punishments for the Different Degrees of Felonies?

A felony can be punished by a fine and/or a prison sentence. The lower the degree, the higher the penalties.

In Utah, a felony conviction may result in the following:

  • Capital:
    • A death sentence
    • A minimum prison term of 25 years
    • A prison term of life without the possibility of parole
  • First-degree:
    • Between 5 years and life in prison
    • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Second-degree:
    • Between 1 and 15 years in prison
    • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Third-degree:
    • Up to 5 years in prison
    • A fine of up to $5,000

As you can see by the different terms of imprisonment, a first-degree felony is considered more serious than a third-degree; its minimum prison sentence is the same as the maximum for the latter degree.

How Do You Know What Degree of Felony a Crime Is?

The Utah Criminal Code enumerates the various types of conduct that are illegal in the state. In many cases, when you pull up a specific statute, it'll tell you exactly what degree of felony the offense is.

Felony-level charges aren't the only type that can be levied in a criminal case. There are also misdemeanors. As such, some crimes may be charged as only felonies, others may be only misdemeanors, and some may be both felonies and misdemeanors.

The more severe the offense, the higher the level and degree of the charge.

For instance, murder is a serious offense and is only ever charged as a first-degree felony. In contrast, theft, while also a major crime, can be either level. It's a misdemeanor when the value of the property stolen was less than $1,500, and it's a felony when the item was worth $1,500 or more.

Have you been charged with a crime in Salt Lake City? At Lokken & Putnam, P.C., our skilled lawyers are ready to help navigate your case. Call us at (801) 829-9783 or contact us online today.