Crime vs. Misdemeanor

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Difference between Crime and Misdemeanor

Crimes are activities that breach the law. Misdemeanors are certain types of crimes. They are usually considered less serious crimes and they typically receive less severe punishments than serious crimes, which are known as felonies. The legal procedure when someone is charged with a misdemeanor is also different from the procedure that is followed when someone is charged with another type of crime.


Legal Definition

A crime is a breach of the law for which someone can be prosecuted. It is a wrongdoing or an offence against the law.

A misdemeanor is a certain type of crime that is punishable, in the US, by prison terms of less than one year, but more than five days.

Types of Crime

In the United States, crimes are classified into three different types. These are felonies, infractions and misdemeanors. The least serious crimes are classified as infractions, while felonies are the most serious crimes. Misdemeanors are crimes that are considered more serious than infractions, but less serious than felonies.

Typical types of crimes that are classified as misdemeanors include petty theft, drug possession, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, reckless driving, simple assault, vandalism and trespassing. However, the crimes that are considered as misdemeanors in different countries can vary.

The term misdemeanor, which is used in the US, is similar to the term contravention, which is used to describe similar crimes in many other countries, such as France, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. In some other countries, the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors is no longer made. Other methods of classifying crimes are used. In the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example, crimes are divided into summary offenses and indictable offences.


Crimes can be punished in a variety of different ways, depending on the state and country in which the crime has taken place and where the conviction has been made. Misdemeanors in the US are usually distinguished by the types of punishments that can be given.

In the United States, misdemeanors are crimes that can be punished by less severe penalties than are used to punish felonies. Infractions are usually punishable by fines or by short periods in jail, usually less than five days. Felonies are usually punished by sentences of more than one year, which will be served in state or federal penitentiaries. A misdemeanor is generally punished by a sentence of between five days and one year in prison, although it may also be punished in other ways. Someone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor may be punished through a fine, probation, community service or restitution rather than time in jail. These punishments may also be combined.

When someone is charged with a misdemeanor, they are generally not tried by a jury. If the accused person wishes to undergo a jury trial, they will usually be required to pay a fee first. In some jurisdictions, people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation may not be eligible to receive help from a court appointed attorney if they are charged with a misdemeanor rather than with a more serious crime.

If someone is accused of a misdemeanor, their criminal record will usually be taken into account when their punishment is being determined. Convictions for misdemeanors will appear on an individual's criminal record. Someone who has previously been convicted of a misdemeanor will usually receive a more serious punishment than someone with a clean criminal record. Misdemeanors will also appear when potential employers run a criminal record check.

Similarities and Differences


  • Certain crimes, or breaches of the law, are classified as misdemeanors in the United States.
  • In the US, a crime may also be considered an infraction or a felony.
  • A crime occurs when somebody breaks the law.
  • Crimes in the US are classified as felonies, infractions and misdemeanors.


  • The definition of a misdemeanor is usually based on the types of punishments that are available following a conviction, particularly the length of time which the convicted individual may be sentenced to serve in prison.
  • All misdemeanors are crimes, but every crime is not a misdemeanor.
  • A misdemeanor is a less serious crime.
  • Misdemeanors are usually punishable by between five days and one year in prison, in the US.
  • When someone is charged with a misdemeanor in the US, they do not have the right to be tried by a jury and they may not have the right to be appointed an attorney by the court.


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