Felonies are Mortal Sins – Misdemeanors are Venial Sins

My office building was a former convent. For that reason, forgive me if I draw upon

precepts of Christianity to describe the differences between felonies and misdemeanors. When I

do that, I can tell you that felonies are mortal sins and misdemeanors are venial sins.

A felony is a serious crime – relatively speaking. A mortal sin is a serious offense in the

eyes of the church. You can tell a felony is a serious crime because the potential punishment is

harsh. An offense becomes a felony when it can generate imprisonment for more than one year.

In the very old days, a felony was deemed so serious that you could forfeit your lands or goods or

both to the Crown. Ouch! That would leave a mark!

I can’t even tell you what the maximum sentence is for committing a mortal sin. I suspect

it is more harsh than the sentence for committing a felony.

In New Hampshire we have two types of felonies. We call them A felonies and B

felonies. The A felonies carry maximum jail sentences of 7 ½ – 15 years. The B felonies carry

maximum jail sentences of 3 ½ – 7 years. So – if you’re going to sin badly by committing a

felony, commit the B felony instead of the A felony. We will all be the better for it.

Similarly, New Hampshire recognizes two types of misdemeanors. Again, they break

down into A misdemeanors and B misdemeanors. The A misdemeanor can garner a sentence of

imprisonment of up to one year. The B misdemeanor carries no jail sentence – just a fine. A

misdemeanors are the varsity of misdemeanors and B misdemeanors are the junior varsity.

Felonies and misdemeanors are crimes, so no matter what the grade – A or B – a person

committing a felony or a misdemeanor has a criminal record. No one wants a criminal record, so

avoid committing either.

I found it interesting to look up the history of the word felony. The etymology (the

development of a given word) states that a felon is “one who deceives or commits treason; one

who is wicked or evil; evil-doer,” used of Lucifer and Herod, from Old French felon “evil-doer,

scoundrel, traitor, rebel, oath-breaker, the Devil” (9c.), from Medieval Latin fellonem

(nominative fello) “evil-doer,” which is of uncertain origin, perhaps from Frankish *fillo, *filljo

“person who whips or beats, scourger” (source of Old High German fillen “to whip”); or from

Latin fel “gall, poison,” on the notion of “one full of bitterness.” Celtic origins also have been


I wasn’t kidding when I said that a felony was a mortal sin.

In New Hampshire – unlike a lot of states – felonies and misdemeanors can be annulled.

To keep my analogy to the Christian religion going – it’s like going to confession and being

absolved of your sins.