A misdemeanor, or a misdemeanour in many common law legal systems, is a "lesser" criminal act. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions (also known as regulatory offenses). Many misdemeanors are punished with monetary fines.
Similar to misdemeanors in many civil law countries (e.g. France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland etc.) are contraventions.
Distinction between felonies and misdemeanors
In the United States, the federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies. Many states also employ this distinction.
The distinction between felonies and misdemeanors has been abolished by several other common law jurisdictions (e.g. Australia). Those jurisdictions have generally adopted some other classification: in the Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, the crimes are divided into summary offences and indictable offences. Ireland, a former member of the Commonwealth, also uses these divisions.
Typical misdemeanors and sentences
In some jurisdictions, those who are convicted of a misdemeanor are known as misdemeanants (as contrasted with those convicted of a felony who are known as felons). Depending on the jurisdiction, examples of misdemeanors may include: petty theft, prostitution, public intoxication, simple assault, disorderly conduct, trespass, vandalism, drug possession, reckless driving, and other similar crimes.
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