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 Lewis, who represents the 9th Aldermanic District on the city's northwest side, is facing four felonies and a misdemeanor in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Alison Dirr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 18 Oct. 2021 At base, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED, be at least 21, and have no prior felony or major misdemeanor convictions, or pending cases against them. Kaitlin Durbin, cleveland, 16 Oct. 2021 Two days before, he was arrested in Salem and accused of criminal trespass while in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor, according to Marion County court records. oregonlive, 14 Oct. 2021 For many juvenile misdemeanor offenses, state law requires that police officers release children with a citation or a summons rather than taking them into custody, according to the lawsuit. Adia Robinson, ABC News, 14 Oct. 2021 Because two children were inside the home at the time of the April 28 discovery, all seven adults also were charged with misdemeanor child abuse. Jeff Truesdell, PEOPLE.com, 14 Oct. 2021 Bissey, 53, pleaded guilty in July to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months' imprisonment. NBC News, 13 Oct. 2021 In 2019, he was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic battery after witnesses accused him of shoving his girlfriend in a parking lot at the Beverly Center. Dylan Hernández Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct. 2021 Pawtucket police have charged Lemus with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. BostonGlobe.com, 13 Oct. 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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Time Traveler for misdemeanor

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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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Statistics for misdemeanor

Last Updated

21 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Misdemeanor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misdemeanor. Accessed 24 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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