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.

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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 Scheller will face a misdemeanor-level special court martial for his his viral videos that blasted both civilian and military leadership as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded in August. Michael Lee, Fox News, 7 Oct. 2021 Among the services, veterans can talk with court officials to provide on-site adjudication for pending misdemeanor and traffic cases. Jonathan Hernandez Morales, The Arizona Republic, 7 Oct. 2021 In June, Jaylen Devon Fleer was sentenced to a dozen years in prison following his guilty pleas to 20 felony and misdemeanor charges. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 Oct. 2021 In that same period, Buk pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of retail theft and failure to appear in justice court. Becky Jacobs, The Salt Lake Tribune, 5 Oct. 2021 Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor or third-degree felony. Timothy Fanning, San Antonio Express-News, 5 Oct. 2021 Prosecutors charged Mercado with 28 counts of animal cruelty and violating an owner’s duties, both of which are misdemeanor offenses. John Keilman, chicagotribune.com, 2 Oct. 2021 Both men pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. cleveland, 29 Sep. 2021 Those are far harsher penalties than trespassing elsewhere, a simple misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $855. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 12 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

9 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 20 Oct. 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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