mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony (see felony sense 2) defacing school property is a misdemeanor— Jessica Portner
2 : misdeed Student misdemeanors will not go unpunished.

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What is meant by 'crimes and misdemeanors'?

Misdemeanor comes from demeanor, which means “behavior toward others” or “outward manner” (as in “his quiet demeanor”), itself derived from the verb demean, which means “to conduct or behave (oneself) usually in a proper manner”—not to be confused with the other and much more common verb demean that means “to lower in character, status, or reputation” (as in “I won’t demean myself by working for so little money”). These two verbs are spelled the same way but come from different roots.

Therefore, misdemeanor literally means “bad behavior toward others.” This led to parallel usage as both general bad behavior and legal bad behavior. In American law, a misdemeanor is “a crime less serious than a felony.” A felony is defined as “a federal crime for which the punishment may be death or imprisonment for more than a year.” As misdemeanor became more specific, crime became the more general term for any legal offense.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” found in Article Two, Section 4 of the Constitution, has been used in English law since the 14th century, as have other fixed phrases using synonymous terms, such as “rules and regulations” and “emoluments and salaries.” It can be very difficult to distinguish between any of these pairs of words, and their frequent use together renders them less technical in today’s highly specific legal vocabulary. “High crimes” are serious crimes committed by those with some office or rank, and was used in the language describing impeachment proceedings of members of the British Parliament in the 18th century.

Examples of misdemeanor in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web McGee is facing a misdemeanor charge of failure to render aid and police said more charges may be filed because the investigation is ongoing. Tess Williams, Anchorage Daily News, "Pedestrian on Glenn Highway dies after being struck by vehicle, police say," 3 Jan. 2021 Richard Heene pleaded guilty for attempting to influence a public servant and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, while Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for filing a false report and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. NBC News, "Parents convicted in 'balloon boy' hoax pardoned by Colorado governor," 24 Dec. 2020 Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to authorities and spent 20 days in jail, and Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant and served 90 days in jail. Tina Burnside And Eric Levenson, CNN, "Parents in infamous 'Balloon Boy' saga pardoned by Colorado governor," 24 Dec. 2020 Larson is being held at Denver County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of harboring a minor. Jessica Flores, USA TODAY, "Former Virginia congressional candidate arrested for 'extremely disturbing' plan to kidnap 12-year-old girl, police say," 21 Dec. 2020 However, Urbina was booked Monday into the Orange County jail, after receiving medical treatment, on a misdemeanor charge of resisting an officer without violence, court records show. Grace Toohey, orlandosentinel.com, "Orange deputy, 18-year-old identified in shooting after traffic stop," 21 Dec. 2020 Shortly after the pardon, Clinton Jr. was arrested in 2001 over suspicion of drunken driving in California but plead guilty instead to the misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. Mica Soellner, Washington Examiner, "From Iran-Contra felons to Michael Flynn, here's a look at the most controversial presidential pardons," 9 Dec. 2020 Kerner’s mother, Roxann Kerner, 47, of Chesterton, was charged last month with felony counts of perjury and obstructing justice and a misdemeanor charge of false informing related to her son’s case. Amy Lavalley, chicagotribune.com, "Connor Kerner gets 179 years for killing two teens, setting bodies on fire at Hebron-area home after drug deal gone bad," 8 Dec. 2020 Emmanuel Duron is facing the misdemeanor charge after video showed him body-slamming an official who ejected him from the game. Victoria Albert, CBS News, "Texas high school football player who attacked referee charged with assault," 4 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'misdemeanor.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of misdemeanor

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for misdemeanor

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The first known use of misdemeanor was in the 15th century

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Statistics for misdemeanor

Last Updated

6 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for misdemeanor


How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of misdemeanor

law : a crime that is not very serious : a crime that is less serious than a felony


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Kids Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony


mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Legal Definition of misdemeanor

: a crime that carries a less severe punishment than a felony specifically : a crime punishable by a fine and by a term of imprisonment not to be served in a penitentiary and not to exceed one year — compare felony

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