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

Following her 1984 arrest, Barrows cut a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of promoting prostitution. Glynnis Macnicol, Town & Country, "The Reinvention of Sydney Biddle Barrows: The Mayflower Madame Has Some Advice," 17 Apr. 2019 He was cleared of the misdemeanor assault charges in February. NBC News, "Former NBA star Charles Oakley accused of gambling fraud at Las Vegas casino," 12 July 2018 Voynov eventually pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse. Kevin Allen, USA TODAY, "NHL should do right thing again: Don't let Slava Voynov back," 5 July 2018 In 2014, Dukes was fined $433 on a misdemeanor weed charge. Carli Teproff And David J. Neal, miamiherald, "He got shot on Father's Day. Now that he's better, he's charged in a Father's Day murder.," 27 June 2018 Lee pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge for punching someone at the party who tried to call for help. Kevin Grasha, Cincinnati.com, "Delhi cousins who 'took turns' raping girl at party sentenced," 25 June 2018 Currently, strangulation is usually a misdemeanor under state law except in limited circumstances, according to a recent Clackamas County news release. Hillary Borrud, The Seattle Times, "New Oregon laws take effect Jan. 1," 31 Dec. 2018 Administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have urged migrants to go to ports of entry to try to come into the U.S. Crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor. Alicia A. Caldwell, WSJ, "Trump to Issue New Rules for Asylum Seekers," 8 Nov. 2018 According to the law, distribution of these images without consent is a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class D felony for each following offense. Emma Austin, The Courier-Journal, "Sex ed, terrorism and revenge porn: New Kentucky laws start Saturday," 13 July 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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Statistics for misdemeanor

Last Updated

24 May 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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Comments on misdemeanor

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to mark by some ceremony or observation

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