Misdemeanor Legal Definition:

(USA) A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony where the punishment might be a fine or prison for less than one year.

Related Terms: Summary Conviction Offence , Crime , Petty Offense , Felony

Salhany wrote in his 2008 book on Criminal Procedure:

"At common law, crimes fell into two categories: indictable offences which included treason, felonies and misdemeanours, triable only by judge and jury; and petty offences, which were tried summarily by justices of the peace sitting without a jury.

"The distinction between felonies and misdemeanours was particularly important. Felonies invoved more heinous crimes such as murder, burglary and rape and had more serious consequences than misdemeanours. For example, all felonies were originally punishable by death (with the exception of petty larceny and mayhem) and a conviction resulted in forfeiture of the felon's property (to the Crown). A misdemeanour, on the other hand, was never punishable by death and rarely involved any forfeiture.

"A person accused of felony was not entitled to bail but a person committed for trial for a misdemeanor generally was."

(USA) A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony where the punishment might be a fine or prison for less than one year.

The Office of the Attorney General for the State of California, in 2007, defined a felony as "... a crime which may be punishable by imprisonment in a state prison and/or a fine, or death" and a misdemeanor, "a crime punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, by fine, or both."

While not an absolute definition as it varies from state to state, an example of a misdemeanor might be a theft of something of small value, disorderly conduct or a traffic violation, whereas a repeat misdemeanor may be upgraded to a felony (such as for DUI).

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