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Malfeasance vs. Misfeasance

Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

In this lesson, you'll learn about malfeasance and misfeasance and discover the differences and similarities of the terms and how to tell them apart. Examples will be given to strengthen your understanding of these terms.

Malfeasance or Misfeasance?

A police officer is completing his rounds during his shift. His shift is almost over and he can't wait to get home. As he is driving past the local gas station, he sees an altercation occur between the cashier and a customer. The officer, noticing his shift ends in 30 minutes, knows that if he stops, he could be there for a while. He knows that if he is on duty, and he sees a potentially serious issue arise, he must stop and alleviate the situation. Even knowing this, he decides to continue back to the station to clock out. The altercation between the cashier and customer turned out deadly, with the cashier being shot to death and the money from the register being stolen. This event could have been prevented and led to serious consequences for the officer. Do you think this is an example of malfeasance or misfeasance? Let's explore the two terms to find out.

What Is Malfeasance?

Malfeasance is the intentional act of of doing something wrong, either legally or morally. It is an act done with improper purposes and with the knowledge that the act being committed exceeds the authority of the wrongdoer. So, was the act of the officer in the above example malfeasance? Yes it was. The officer knew the proper protocol for being on duty. An officer is on duty until he/she is clocked out. This particular officer was still on duty in his patrol car. He knew he was supposed to stop at the scene in order to prevent further escalation of the altercation. He chose not to stop, and his choice led to a robbery and a death.

A judge taking bribes from the prosecution is another example of malfeasance. The judge knows that it is illegal to take money in order to give a favored ruling. Since the judge knows his actions are illegal, but continues to carry them out anyway, it is an act of malfeasance.

What Is Misfeasance?

Misfeasance is carrying out a legal or proper action, but doing so in a way that is harmful or wrong. Let's think back to the officer from the beginning of our lesson. Could his actions been ones of misfeasance, rather than, malfeasance? Unfortunately, in this case they were not. If, for example, the officer drove by, saw the altercation, but instead of responding to the scene himself, he called another officer on patrol, who was 10 minutes away, to respond to the scene, that would be an act of misfeasance. Calling in a responding officer is correct under protocol, but he should have also been at the scene, first, since he was the closest one there. The delayed response to the scene caused the scene to escalate into robbery and murder.

A detective writing abbreviated versions of case files is another example of misfeasance. While he is still providing case files, which falls under his responsibility, he misses important details in more complex cases that could have changed a verdict. The detective just thought he found a quicker way to be more efficient with writing up case files, not realizing that his actions could be harmful in court.

Misconduct Has Dire Consequences

Since misfeasance and malfeasance, both have to do with misconduct in the workplace, they both hold the wrongdoer liable for their misconduct. The charges will vary from situation to situation, but can include steep fines, loss of employment and jail time. The situation with the officer, at the beginning of the lesson, would have more serious consequences, than the detective who abbreviated his case files.

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