misdemeanor

noun
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.

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 More than 130 defendants have pleaded guilty so far to charges connected to the Capitol riot, with most to date admitting to misdemeanor charges. Hannah Rabinowitz And Holmes Lybrand, CNN, 22 Nov. 2021 Earlier this year, Cantwell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery. Nicole Sganga, CBS News, 18 Nov. 2021 Of those, at least 90 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and at least 15 have pleaded guilty to felony charges, the sentencing memorandum said. NBC News, 10 Nov. 2021 At the center of the legal maelstrom is Scott, a 30-year-old rapper famous for whipping fans into a frenzy who has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges tied to stirring up crowds at previous concerts. BostonGlobe.com, 9 Nov. 2021 Another nurse’s aide, Maria Karban, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 6 months in jail. cleveland, 11 Oct. 2021 Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 22 Sep. 2021 On Wednesday, the 36-year-old country singer — who was indicted following a 2019 DUI arrest — pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to his arrest, The Tennessean reported. Tomás Mier, PEOPLE.com, 18 Aug. 2021 The couple pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and harassment charges in June. Ivan Pereira, ABC News, 3 Aug. 2021

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

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Dictionary Entries Near misdemeanor

misdemeanant

misdemeanor

misdemeanour

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Last Updated

26 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 29 Nov. 2021.

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More Definitions for misdemeanor

misdemeanor

noun

English Language Learners Definition of misdemeanor

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

misdemeanor

noun
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

misdemeanor

noun
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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