mis·​de·​mean·​or | \ -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

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, according to a filing by his attorney in a Palm Beach County, Fla. court. Andrew Beaton, WSJ, "Patriots Owner Robert Kraft Pleads Not Guilty to Soliciting Prostitution," 28 Feb. 2019 And its ordinance code says anyone over 12 who gets caught trick-or-treating, or anyone who gets caught after curfew, could be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines from $25 to $100 or up to six months in jail. Megan Friedman, House Beautiful, "A Town in Virginia Has Set A Strict Age Limit For Trick-or-Treaters," 11 Oct. 2018 Wala Wojciectl, is due in court July 25 for the misdemeanor. Pioneer Press, chicagotribune.com, "Norridge police reports," 22 June 2018 Over the first seven months of fiscal 2017-18, through April, federal prosecutors brought more than 40,300 criminal immigration cases, of which more than 56% were for misdemeanors. Michael Hiltzik, latimes.com, "The truth about 'zero tolerance': It doesn't work and always leads to disaster," 22 June 2018 Because of Trump's executive order, DHS can deport people for misdemeanors more easily, because the government no longer prioritizes the removal of dangerous criminals, gang members or national-security threats. Salvador Rizzo, Anchorage Daily News, "The facts about Trump's policy of separating families at the border," 20 June 2018 Jeffrey Richardson, 66, turned himself in on Friday and was charged with three counts of neglect of an animal, a class A misdemeanor, and two counts of failure to dispose of a deceased animal, a level 6 felony. Indianapolis Star, "Bloomington man charged after two horses are found dead and third ‘severely emaciated’," 18 June 2018 The suspects were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor and felony charges, Cunningham said. Molly Sullivan, sacbee, "Nearly 50,000 pounds of illegal fireworks seized, 7 arrested in Cal Fire bust," 7 June 2018 Of Stephan’s trials that were compiled, one ended in an acquittal for the defendant, one resulted in a hung jury where the defendant ultimately pleaded to a lesser misdemeanor and the balance were guilty verdicts on at least one or more charges. Greg Moran, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Experience a key issue in district attorney race," 29 May 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

15 Mar 2019

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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 How to pronounce misdemeanor (audio) \

Kids Definition of misdemeanor

1 : a crime less serious than a felony
2 : misdeed


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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