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 In March, there were around 2,900 misdemeanor family violence cases pending in Bexar County. Emilie Eaton, ExpressNews.com, "Five additional judges to begin handling family violence cases in Bexar County — the latest effort to address a rising backlog," 20 Nov. 2020 The Clackamas County case came to a close this month when Kearns pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor menacing charge. oregonlive, "State moves to permanently strip police powers from Clackamas County deputy convicted of domestic violence," 19 Nov. 2020 Ohio Auditor Keith Faber looks at the texting case and referred the five council members for prosecution on a misdemeanor crime of dereliction of duty. Sharon Coolidge, The Enquirer, "Recent Cincinnati City Hall corruption: A timeline," 19 Nov. 2020 The misdemeanor offense carries a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, "Feds charge Hollywood man after drone collides with LAPD helicopter," 19 Nov. 2020 Judge Joseph Carter lowered the counts to gross misdemeanor infractions and ordered Daniliuk to serve 30 days of his sentence starting on Aug. 19, 2021, and the balance on Aug. 19, 2022, anniversaries of the crash. Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, "60 days in jail for Eagan driver who was drunk when he hit Starbucks, hurt 2," 16 Nov. 2020 Cook County Circuit Court jury trials have been postponed, criminal misdemeanor hearings are happening only online, and many other hearings are online only. Katherine Rosenberg-douglas, chicagotribune.com, "Running list of Chicago-area closings and cancellations because of coronavirus," 16 Nov. 2020 He is charged with felony possession of methamphetamine; felony possession of xanax; felony possession of drug paraphernalia; and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. William Sanders, Arkansas Online, "POLICE BEAT: Drug charges filed after no-signal stop," 14 Nov. 2020 The company could now face a fine of as much as $200,000 for its misdemeanor violation. Halle Parker | Staff Writer, NOLA.com, "Terrebonne Parish seafood company pleads guilty to federal charge of illegal oyster sales," 11 Nov. 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

25 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 27 Nov. 2020.

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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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