Misdemeanor Crimes: An Overview of the Crime and the Punishment

Misdemeanor Crimes: An Overview of the Crime and the Punishment

What is a misdemeanor?

A misdemeanor is generally considered to be a “lesser” criminal act. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies. Many misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines and do not involve a prison sentence or jail time to be served.

In the United States, the federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered to be felonies. Many states also follow this same view of this type of crime.

In some jurisdictions, those who are convicted of a misdemeanor are known as misdemeanants (those convicted of a felony who are known as felons), although the term misdemeanants is rarely used. Depending on the jurisdiction, examples of misdemeanors may include:

  • Petty theft, stealing items of low value
  • Prostitution or selling sexual favors
  • Public intoxication or drunkenness
  • Simple assault
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism
  • Drug possession
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • other similar crimes

What is the punishment for committing a misdemeanor crime?

In the United States, misdemeanors are crimes with a maximum punishment of 12 months of incarceration. Incarceration typically takes place in a local jail, rather than a state or federal prison facility.

In contrast, felons (those who are convicted of committing a felony crime) are usually incarcerated in a state or federal prison. Most often, those convicted of misdemeanors are punished with probation, community service or part-time imprisonment, served on the weekends, pay a monetary fine, or some combination of each.

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.

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