A criminal misdemeanor is a minor crime that is generally punished less severely than a felony, or greater crime. There is no consistent definition of a misdemeanor, as different societies place may place different weight on certain crimes. The punishments may vary; in the United States, a crime is considered a misdemeanor if it carries with it a punishment of no more than one year of incarceration. In many cases, this punishment can involve nothing more than a simple monetary fine. A minor crime that is even less significant is known as an infraction or a regulatory offense, and it usually involves only small monetary penalties.
The difference between a criminal felony and a misdemeanor can vary greatly based on the political, social, and cultural climates of a given area. It is generally understood that the term misdemeanor, which essentially means "misbehavior," refers to lesser offenses that bear comparatively insignificant punishments. The term felony, on the other hand, most closely means "evil-doer," and refers to more serious crimes that carry with them more grave penalties. Different cultures, of course, have different ideas about the severity of crimes; this is especially true of cultures in which religion has influence over the legal system.
Many legal systems no longer recognize the distinction between a criminal misdemeanor and a felony, and they instead divide crimes into summary offenses and indictable offenses. A summary offense can be charged and punished without a trial or jury. They are also known as petty crimes and tend to only involve the most minor and clear-cut offenses. An indictable offense, on the other hand, must involve a formal accusation and trial. The United States still divides crimes into infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies, but other areas, such as Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, use the summary/indictable offense system.
Petty theft is one common example of a criminal misdemeanor in the legal system of the United States. This crime involves the theft of anything that is not worth a significant amount of money. In some legal systems, however, even petty theft can result in significant jail time or even physical harm, such as amputation of the hands, although punishments of this severity are less common in modern times than they were in the past. This demonstrates the different classifications placed on crimes under different legal systems.
Other examples of misdemeanors include prostitution, vandalism, possession of narcotics, and driving while intoxicated. These tend to involve rather minor punishments, but repeated offenses can result in greater punishments. Examples of felonies, on the other hand, include murder, sexual assault, and grand theft.