Legal English: “Misdemeanor”

Today’s legal english phrase, “misdemeanor,” (Pronunication: MIHS-duh-mee-nuhr; Origin: English) refers to a minor crime, generally punishable by less than one year in prison. Major crimes, on the other hand, are referred to as “felonies.”

Here are some example sentences that use the phrase:

  • “The maximum penalty is certainly not required here. This is my client’s first misdemeanor charge, and we request that he be sentenced to time already served.”
  • “Our company is officially a criminal enterprise. We missed the filing deadline and, in this jurisdiction, that’s a misdemeanor for which we now have to pay a fine. We need to be a lot more thorough with our compliance reviews. I think we should hire an attorney in-house whose sole responsibility is compliance, going forward.”
  • “You’re lucky they only charged you with a misdemeanor for that stunt you pulled last night. Had they gone for a felony charge, you could be looking at a lot of time behind bars.”

Examples of misdemeanors in many American jurisdictions include petty theft (stealing less than $1,000 worth of assets), public intoxication, simple assault, trespass (most commonly thought of as entry onto another’s land without proper authorization), and vandalism (damaging the property of another in a minor way).

Punishments for misdemeanors are generally less than a year of jail time in most jurisdictions, although some allow for more. Punishments can also include loss of privileges such as professional licenses and other governmental benefits.

Misdemeanor convictions can also result in the payment of fines; for corporate defendants, this is the most common result. It is possible, however, for more serious crimes to result in a court-ordered termination of the business entity. Examples of crimes that may be considered corporate misdemeanors are; operating without a license, violation of labor laws, failure to comply with environmental regulations, improper tax filings, and many other violations of law or administrative agency rules that are designed to apply to business entities.

For additional legal english terms and definitions, visit our Legal English category page. Washington University School of Law also offers a legal english course, for those who would like to take their learning further.