Posted by Tamara
Several people have expressed an interest in some unusual West Virginia felony laws. Under West Virginia law, it is a felony to teach a bear to wrestle. Training a bear to ride a unicycle, toot a trombone or juggle is okay, but it’s illegal to teach a bear to wrestle. The law makes more sense when you realize that it is aimed at eliminating illegal gambling on fights between bears and dogs.
Such oddities are not limited to West Virginia felony laws. In Arizona, it’s a felony to aimlessly fire a gun into the air in celebration. Again, like most strange laws, this one has a valid reason behind it. After a 14-year-old girl was killed by stray gunfire, her parents were shocked to learn that firing a gun in celebration is not a felony. It took them several years, but with the help of Arizona’s governor, they changed the law.
Some states do have unusual laws, though. In Alabama, it’s a felony to pass a stopped school bus, even if there is no traffic accident and no one is injured. In Washington, a new state law makes it a felony to participate in an online poker game. In Arkansas, it’s a felony to excavate or display human remains, even for historical or educational purposes, and in several states it’s a felony to disturb a gravestone, even by accident.
Originally, felonies were limited to only the most serious of crimes: murder, rape, and child molestation. Less serious offenses were misdemeanors. In ancient times, felonies were punishable by death or dismemberment, and forfeiture of all property. Today, many crimes have been promoted to felony status. In various states, felony offenses include aggravated assault, battery, arson, burglary, drug possession or distribution, embezzlement, treason, espionage and racketeering. Many of these crimes also have misdemeanor versions. Fortunately, penalties have been reduced as well, although virtually all felonies carry a minimum sentence of one year in a state or federal penitentiary.
West Virginia felony laws are no stranger than those in other states are. In California, petty thefts can be prosecuted as a felony if the accused has a history of theft. Felony convictions include stealing a single slice of pepperoni pizza from a group of children, or stealing four chocolate chip cookies. Both of these offenders were convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail or more without parole, under California habitual offender laws. By contrast, possession of 25.9 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor in California. Conviction carries a $100 fine, and no jail sentence.
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