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

The effect of having a criminal background severely decreased after two years for those with misdemeanors and fiveyears for those with felonies. Talis Shelbourne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "2019 Affordable Housing Forum highlights new study on ex-offenders' access to stable housing," 5 Sep. 2019 In the past, hunters and anglers could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and fined up to $500 for failing to provide a license. Matt Wyatt, Houston Chronicle, "Texas hunting and fishing licenses go digital," 1 Sep. 2019 For most people with misdemeanors, the process is supposed to happen automatically. Robert Mccoppin, chicagotribune.com, "Expunging marijuana convictions: What you need to know," 30 Aug. 2019 Erin Louisa Jackson, 51, of the 1300 block of Old New Windsor Road, was charged with seven misdemeanors and one felony. Akira Kyles, baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll, "New Windsor woman charged with assault after allegedly threatening people with knife at crab feast," 17 Aug. 2019 The charter provides that employees who violate the provision could be charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $1,000 and be immediately be fired. Eric Heisig, cleveland.com, "Cleveland firefighters demand chief’s ouster, claim he broke rules by campaigning for Mayor Frank Jackson," 7 Aug. 2019 Krickovich, 29, is charged with five misdemeanors: three counts of falsifying public records and two counts of battery. Rafael Olmeda, sun-sentinel.com, "Deputy in teen beating case goes to court," 29 July 2019 Tyrone Crawford was allegedly involved in a bar brawl, was charged with a misdemeanor and could face discipline by the league and Roger Gregory has been suspended indefinitely. oregonlive.com, "Marcus Mariota, Jalen Jelks among 26 former Oregon Ducks to follow as 2019 NFL training camps open," 24 July 2019 What's happened elsewhere In Toledo, where a decriminalization ordinance was passed in 2015, police officers can use their discretion to decide whether or not to charge someone with a misdemeanor for marijuana possession under 200 grams. Maia Anderson, Cincinnati.com, "New marijuana law takes effect in Cincinnati: What to know," 10 July 2019

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

13 Sep 2019

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

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More Definitions for misdemeanor



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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miscellaneous remnants or debris

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