What is a Federal Misdemeanor?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A federal misdemeanor is a type of crime. In the United States and countries that have similar legal systems, crimes are separated into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are considered less serious crimes while felonies are the most serious criminal acts. Other places, like the United Kingdom, use a different crime designation, dividing crimes into summary offenses, which are minor, and indictable offenses, which are more serious. A federal misdemeanor is a minor type of offense that violates a law set by the federal government.

Some types of blackmail are considered a federal misdemeanor.
Some types of blackmail are considered a federal misdemeanor.

There are federal, regional, and local laws a person must follow. For example, a state or city may have laws that vary from those set by the federal government. Often, however, local and federal laws are similar. Driving while intoxicated, for instance, is typically both a federal and local crime. Some types of misdemeanors are federal simply because they violate federal laws, but others are considered federal crimes because of where they were committed.

To understand how location can affect whether or not a crime is considered a federal misdemeanor, think about a petty theft. If a person steals a wallet containing a small amount of cash, the act is usually considered a misdemeanor and would then be prosecuted based on the legal codes of that jurisdiction. If this crime were committed on federal property, however, it would be a federal misdemeanor. Likewise, if an individual begins committing a crime in one state and then travels to another state to continue his criminal act, the crime is often considered a federal crime because of the crossing of state lines.

There are many types of crimes that may be considered federal misdemeanors. They range from driving while intoxicated and assault to theft and even some types of blackmail. For example, domestic violence breaks federal laws. If a spouse or other domestic partner hits or threatens to use a deadly weapon against his spouse or domestic partner, this is considered a crime. It is in violation of not only federal laws, but also the laws in most local jurisdictions.

Interestingly, an individual who has broken a domestic violence law may be held to higher standards when it comes to other federal laws. For example, the victim in a domestic violence case may receive an order of protection. This order basically requires the accused person to stay away from the victim and cause him no further harm. If a person who is subject to an order of protection is found in possession of a firearm after the order is granted, he is breaking federal law.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


The sentences are not dramatically more or less severe based on it being a federal crime. I very much doubt there is any action that is a federal misdemeanor but a state felony, but it is possible.

Federal does not necessarily mean a longer sentence; it just means the person is charged with breaking a federal law. Yes, committing a "small" crime (like littering in a federal park) could constitute a violation of federal law, but likely would not entail a much different sentence than your state's law on littering in a state park.


I was out at a federal park and was just goofing off with my friends. It was after dark and we were messing around. We managed to do a little littering and maybe even a little drunk in public.

I know that these are wrong, but we just got carried away. And, we got caught. Is this going to be something I can be thrown in jail for? Apparently because we on federal land, we were charged with federal misdemeanours.

I’m scared to death, and believe me, I won’t be doing any of that again. My parents were ready to kill me when they found out what we’d done, even though there was no permanent kind of damage to the property.


So, a person can actually commit a very small crime and still have broken federal law.

In this case, are the penalties usually more severe than if the criminal had broken local or state laws? Or is simply more a matter of the type of law that was broken?

A federal misdemeanor would surely be more desirable to have to answer for than a state felony. Or am I wrong?

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