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The term felony, in some common law countries, is defined as a serious crime. The word originates from English common law (from the French medieval word "félonie"), where felonies were originally crimes involving confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods. Other crimes were called misdemeanors. Many common law countries have now abolished the felony/misdemeanor distinction and replaced it with other distinctions, such as between indictable offences and summary offences. A felony is generally considered a crime of high seriousness, but a misdemeanor is not. A person who has committed a felony is a felon. In addition, upon conviction of a felony in a court of law, a person is known as a convicted felon or a convict. In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year. If punishable by exactly one year or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor. The actual prison sentence handed out has no effect on the classification, which is based on the maximum sentence possible under law. Individual states may differ in that definition by using other categories, such as seriousness or context. Similar to felonies in some civil law countries (such as Italy and Spain) are delicts, but in others (such as France, Belgium, and Switzerland), crimes are more serious and delicts (or délits) are less serious. In still others (such as Brazil and Portugal), crimes and delicts are synonymous (more serious) and are opposed to contraventions (less serious).

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