Misdemeanor – less serious than a felony, usually punished by fine, penalty, forfeiture, or a brief term in jail

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1. A crime that is less serious than a felony and is usually punishable by fine, penalty, forfeiture, or confinement (usually for a brief term) in a place other than prison (such as a county jail). — Also spelled (BrE) misdemeanour. — aka minor crime; summary offense. [1]

1. Customarily, an indictable offense not amounting to a felony, but sometimes including offenses not punishable by indictment. Commonwealth v Cano, 389 Pa 639, 133 A2d 800, cert den and app dismd 355 US 182, 2 L Ed 2d 186, 78 S Ct 267.

The distinction between misdemeanors and felonies now commonly adopted, frequently by statute, is that offenses punishable by death, or by imprisonment in the state prison or penitentiary, are felonies, whereas all others, including those punishable by imprisonment in the county jail, are misdemeanors. Roberson v United States (CA5 Ala) 249 F 2d 737, 72 ALR2d 434, cert den 356 US 919, 2 L Ed 2d 715, 78 S Ct 704 (under Alabama law); Eekhardt v People, 126 C010 18, 247 P2d 673.  It is also to be observed that in some jurisdictions, there is a classification, particularly in reference to violations of the Motor Vehicle Law, where the breach is deemed, neither a misdemeanor nor a felony, but an “offense.” [2]

1. A crime not amounting to a felony.  in many jurisdictions, misdemeanors are offenses for which the punishment is incarceration for less than a year (generally in a jail, rather than in a prison or the penitentiary) or the payment of  a fine.
     Compare infraction; petty offense. [3]

     Excerpt from Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce’s Criminal Law (3d ed. 1982):

     “‘Misdemeanor’ was the label ultimately adopted to apply to all offenses other than treason or felony.  The term included a wide variety of wrongs and misprisions.  Many of the substantive legal principles and procedures applicable to felonies were not applied in the case of misdemeanors.  The difference in treatment between felonies and misdemeanors has carried over from common law to current practice, and today misdemeanors are often treated differently than felonies [in] the procedures employed in trying such cases as well as [in] the consequences of a conviction.  The traditional distinction between felonies and misdemeanors has been abolished in England. [4]

Various Types of Misdemeanors:

high misdemeanor (17C) 1. Hist. English law. A crime that ranked just below high treason in seriousness.  *  In English law, the term was essentially synonymous with crime.  Examples of crimes called high misdemeanors are riot and conspiracy.  In early American law, the term had the same meaning as in English law and was used in defining crimes such as sedition.  2. (18c) A serious misdemeanor, though not a felony. — aka gross misdemeanor. 3. (1893) One of a class of misdemeanors having more severe penalties than most other misdemeanors.  *  Conduct rising to the level of a serious misdemeanor can, in some jurisdictions, be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. serious misdemeanor. — aka serious misdemeanor; indictable misdemeanor; penitentiary misdemeanor; aggravated misdemeanor.

treasonable misdemeanor See TREASONABLE MISDEMEANOR.

misdemeanor in office See official misconduct under MISCONDUCT.

misdemeanor manslaughter See MANSLAUGHTER.

misdemeanor-manslaughter rule (1967) The doctrine that a death occurring during the commission of a misdemeanor (or sometimes a nondangerous felony) is involuntary manslaughter.  *  Many states and the Model Penal Code have abolished this rule.  Cf. FELONY-MURDER RULE. [1]

1. Paralleling the felony murder rule, a doctrine in some jurisdictions which declares than any death that takes place during the commission of a misdemeanor is involuntary manslaughter. [3]

    Excerpt from Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce’s Criminal Law (3d ed. 1982):

     “Companion to the felony-murder rule is the so-called misdemeanor-manslaughter rule[:] . . . Homicide resulting from the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an unlawful act, less than a dangerous felony, is manslaughter if the unlawful act is malum in se. [6]

misdemeanant – A person who has committed a misdemeanor. [2] [3]


1. Any crime, including a felony. [1]

     Excerpt from William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1769):

     “A crime, or misdemeanor, is an act committed, or omitted, in violation of a public law, either forbidding or commanding it. This general definition comprehends both crimes and misdemeanors; which, properly speaking, are mere synonymous terms: though, in common usage, the word, ‘crimes ’ is made to .denote such offences as are of a deeper and more atrocrous dye; while smaller faults, and omissions of less consequence, are comprised under the gentler name of ‘misdemeanors’ only. [5]



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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 15 (3d ed. 1982).

[5]: 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 5 (1769).

[6]: Rollin M. Perkins & Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 108 (3d ed. 1982).


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