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What Is a Criminal Misdemeanor?

Petty theft is a common misdemeanor.
Certain misdemeanors, like drinking and driving, have punishments that can escalate if repeated.
Criminal court building.
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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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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.

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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.

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Discuss this Article

oasis11
Post 4

Mutsy- I agree with you. I can only imagine how many times people that get D.U.I's have driven drunk before they get caught. I also wanted to add that criminal assault also results in misdemeanor charges.

Misdemeanor criminal charges are often classified as a Class A, B, or C misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are usually the most severe misdemeanor criminal charge that carries the highest fines and possible jail time.

mutsy
Post 3

Suntan12- You know what I don’t understand is why a DUI is even a misdemeanor. I feel that such reckless behavior can kill another person, and often does. People taking such chances should be charged with a felony right off the bat to discourage this type of behavior.

There should be mandatory jail sentences for first time offenders so that they understand the severity of the situation.

They are not just risking their lives, but they are risking the lives of other passengers and drivers that share the road.

I recently read about an actress that got a second DUI and actually killed a man that was on his way home. She should have been jailed the first time, so this poor man would have had his life spared.

suntan12
Post 2

Greenweaver-Yes it is. Actually it is considered a minor criminal offense that is usually punishable for up to 90 days in jail.

An example of a misdemeanor criminal offense is a DUI. A DUI is driving under the influence, or driving drunk. If this is a first time offense, then it would be a misdemeanor criminal offense.

If you receive an additional D.U.I within a certain amount of time then the misdemeanor charge gets upgraded to a felony.

If the first time charge resulted in someone’s death, then the charges would automatically be felony charges. At that point, you would be charged with vehicular homicide and face significant jail time and fines if convicted.

A misdemeanor criminal record can not be sealed if there is a conviction.

GreenWeaver
Post 1

Is a misdemeanor a criminal offense?

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