mis·de·mean·or | \-di-ˈmē-nər \

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

They are expected to face charges of aggravated assault, robbery and several misdemeanor charges. Chelsea Prince, ajc, "Applebee’s waitress was stabbed after she brushed up against diner’s leg, cops say," 13 July 2018 Avenatti posted on Twitter on Thursday morning that Daniels will plead not guilty to three misdemeanor charges. Catherine Lucey And Michael Balsamo, chicagotribune.com, "Stormy Daniels arrested at Ohio strip club, will plead not guilty, lawyer says," 12 July 2018 The motion says the state doesn't have probable cause to pursue any of the three misdemeanor charges against Daniels. Crimesider Staff, CBS News, "Stormy Daniels' charges dropped; arrest part of "sting operation," lawyer says," 12 July 2018 Because children can’t be placed in adult jails, the misdemeanor charges became grounds for splitting up the families. Jazmine Ulloa, latimes.com, "Trump administration ups its estimate of children separated from their parents to 3,000; about 100 are toddlers," 5 July 2018 Darwish, who suffered a broken arm, was jailed on suspicion of felony assault and other misdemeanor charges. Lyndsay Winkley, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Did the 'system' fail mentally ill man who shot 2 San Diego police officers? Some think so," 1 July 2018 Randall Szostek, 35, of the 200 block of North Connecticut Street, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of theft and unlawful entry of a motor vehicle. Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune, "Hobart man stole phone from car in sheriff's parking lot while turning himself in on separate warrant: police," 28 June 2018 In 2001, Jose Luis Garcia was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. Brittny Mejia, Hoy, "No sólo delincuentes: ICE también arresta a residentes permanentes legales," 28 June 2018 No one with a misdemeanor conviction in the past five years is allowed to work as a VPSO. Anchorage Daily News, "From criminal to cop, and back again, in Alaska’s most vulnerable villages," 9 June 2018

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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Last Updated

11 Oct 2018

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

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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 \

Kids Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony

2 : misdeed


mis·de·mean·or | \ˌmis-di-ˈmē-nər \

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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not any or not one

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