1902 Encyclopedia > Misdemeanour


MISDEMEANOUR. " The word misdemeanour," says Russell (On Crimes, vol. i. chap, iv.), " is applied to all those crimes and offences for which the law has not provided a particular name." Stephen, in his Digest of the Criminal Law, adopts the following mode of distinguishing between misdemeanour and other crimes. " Every crime is either treason, felony, or misdemeanour. Every crime which amounts to treason or felony is so denominated in the defini-tions of crimes hereinafter contained. . All crimes not so denominated are misdemeanours." It is customary to speak of misdemeanour as implying a less degree of crime than felony (see FELONY). " Misdemeanours," observes Russell in the passage already cited, " have been sometimes termed misprisions; indeed the word misprision, in its larger sense, is used to signify every considerable misdemeanour which has not a certain name given to it in the law, and it is said that a misprision is contained in every felony whatsoever, so that the offender may be prosecuted for misjirision at the option of the crown." Misprision, in a more restricted sense (or negative misprision), is the concealment of an offence. Positive misprisions are contempts or misdemeanours of a public character, e.g., maladministration of high officials, contempt of the sovereign or magistrates, &c. The rule as to punishment, when no express provision has been made bylaw, is that "every person convicted of a misdemeanour is liable to fine and imprisonment without hard labour (both or either), and to be put under recognizances to keep the peace and be of good behaviour at the discretion of the court" (Stephen's Digest, art. 22). By 28 & 29 Vict, c. 67 prisoners convicted of misdemeanour and sentenced to hard labour shall be divided into two divisions, one of which shall be called the first division, and when a person convicted of misdemeanour is sentenced to imprisonment without hard labour the court may order him to be treated as a first-class misdemeanant, who shall not be deemed a "criminal prisoner" within the meaning of that Act. The Prison Act, 1877 (§§ 40, 41), requires prisoners convicted of sedition or seditious libel, or attached for contempt of court, to be treated as misdemeanants of the first class.

In New York and some other States of the American Union the legislature has defined felony as any crime which is or may be punishable with death or imprisonment in a State prison, all other crimes being misdemeanours.

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