Felony. The origin and the exact meaning of this common-law term are both uncertain. There is about equally good authority for deriving it from the Saxon words feh, fee, and Ion, price or pay, when its primary sense would be forfeiture or loss of fee; or from a single word felen, to fall or fail, when its meaning might be the falling of the guilty party into crime, or the falling of his land into the hands of his lord by forfeiture. It seems quite certain that in England, from the earliest times, felony was always attended by absolute forfeiture of land or of goods, or of both; and the definition of Blackstone (4 Bl. Com. 95) is, in accordance with this principle: An offence which occasions a total forfeiture of lands or goods, or both, at the common law, and to which capital or other punishment may be superadded, according to the degree of guilt." But we understand Blackstone to mean, generally, by felony, all capital crimes below treason (p. 98); and Coke says (3 Inst, 15) that treason itself was anciently included within the meaning of felony. In those distant ages a felon was to be punished: 1, by loss of life; 2, by loss of land; 3, by loss of goods; 4, by loss of blood, or attainder, under which he could have no heir, and none could ever claim through him.
In more recent times felony meant in practice any crime punishable with death; and therefore when a statute declared any offence to be felony, it became at once punishable with death; and vice versa, a crime which is made punishable with death becomes thereby a felony. Even in early times felony was sometimes defined as any capital crime; although it is said that before the reign of Henry I. felonies were punished only by pecuniary mulct or fine, and that sovereign having about 1108 ordered those guilty of felony to be hanged, this has since been the law of England. (Tomlin'sLaw Dictionary," word "Felony.") It cannot be doubted, however, that at common law the forfeiture incurred by the crime was the essence and the test of felony. In the United States there is little or no forfeiture for crime (see Forfeiture); and in England capital offences are far less numerous than formerly. It may ! be said that in the United States the word, so far as it has any definite meaning, signifies a crime punishable with death or imprisonment The statutes of some of the states define it as any offence punishable to a certain extent, as by death or confinement in the state prison or penitentiary.