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What is a Misdemeanor?

Updated on February 2, 2010

A misdemeanor in law is an act committed or omitted in violation of public law. In the classification of crimes a misdemeanor is a relatively minor offense, as distinguished from a felony. Generally misdemeanors are offenses punishable by fine or imprisonment other than in a penitentiary. Infractions of municipal ordinances, such as minor traffic violations, are not considered misdemeanors. Whether a particular crime is a felony or a misdemeanor is ordinarily determined by the maximum sentence possible under the controlling statute rather than by the actual extent of the punishment awarded by the judge or jury.

Some courts, however, have declared that where a crime may be punished either as a misdemeanor or as a felony, it will be considered to be only a misdemeanor. The practical significance of the distinction is that an arraignment is almost universally considered essential in felony cases, but there is a difference of opinion as to whether it is necessary in prosecutions for misdemeanors.

In a broader sense, the term "misdemeanor" may denote misconduct or misbehavior, such as malpractice by a lawyer or maladministration by a public official.

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    • jose7polanco profile image

      Jose Misael Polanco 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Several similar misdemeanors can led to a felony, can then several same offense infractions led to a misdemeanor? Like the habitual offender law or the 3 strikes law in CA, but not sure if that does applies to infractions too