Misdemeanor Law & Legal Definition


A misdemeanor is an offense for which a sentence to a term of imprisonment not in excess of one year may be imposed. A misdemeanor is less serious than a felony and is punishable by fine or imprisonment in a city or county jail rather than in a prison.

Misdemeanors are tried in the lower courts, such as municipal, police or justice courts. Typical misdemeanors include: petty theft, disturbing the peace, simple assault and battery, drunk driving without injury to others, drunkenness in public, various traffic violations, public nuisances. The District Attorney may have discretion to charge some crimes as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances.

Misdemeanors may be classified by level of seriousness. More serious misdemeanors carry harsher penalties. The classification of misdemeanors varies by jurisdiction and crime. Typically, when misdemeanors are classified into categories, a Class A misdemeanor is more severely punished than lower level Class B and even lower level Class C misdemeanors.