Misprision (from O. Fr. mesprendre, mod. meprendre, to misunderstand), an obsolete term in English law, used to describe certain kinds of offence. Writers on criminal law usually divide misprision into two kinds, negative or positive.
In the term misprision of felony, it survived in England and Wales until 1967.
Also, a term in use in literary theory and criticism, brought into currency by Harold Bloom to designate a strong writer's creative misreading or distortion of a previous thesis or argument. In many cases, so strong that the original thesis is forgotten.
Negative misprisionNegative misprision is the concealment of treason or felony. By the common law of England it was the duty of every liege subject to inform the king's justices and other officers of the law of all treasons and felonies of which the informant had knowledge, and to bring the offender to justice by arrest (see Sheriffs Act 1887, s. 8). The duty fell and still falls primarily on the grand jurors of each county borough or franchise, and is performed by indictment or presentment, but it also falls in theory on all other inhabitants (see Pollock and Maitland, Hist. Eng. Law, ii. 505). Failure by the latter to discharge this public duty constitutes what is known as misprision of treason or felony (see 3 Co. Inst., 139).
Misprision of Treason, in the words of Blackstone, " consists in the bare knowledge and concealment of treason, without any degree of assent thereto, for any assent makes the party a principal traitor." According to Bracton, de Corond, seq. 118, failure to reveal the treason of another was in itself high treason, but statutes of 1551-1552 and 1554-1555 made concealment of treason misprision only. Most of the statutes regulating procedure on trials for treason also apply to misprision of treason. The punishment is loss of the profit of the lands of the offender during life, forfeiture of all his goods and imprisonment for life. These punishments are not affected by the Forfeiture Act 1870.
Misprision of felony is the concealment of a felony committed by another person, but without such previous concert with, or subsequent assistance of the offender, as would make the concealer an accessory before or after the fact. The offence is a misdemeanour punishable on indictment by fine and imprisonment.
Positive misprisionPositive misprision is the doing of something which ought not to be done; or the commission of a serious offence falling short of treason or felony, in other words of a misdemeanour of a public character (e.g. maladministration of high officials, contempt of the sovereign or magistrates, &c.). To endeavour to dissuade a witness from giving evidence, to disclose an examination before the privy council, or to advise a prisoner to stand mute, used to be described as misprisions (Hawk. P. C. bk. I. c. 20).
The old writers say that a misprision is contained in every felony and that the Crown may elect to prosecute for the misprision instead of the felony. This proposition merely affirms the right of the Crown to choose a more merciful remedy in certain cases, and has no present value in the law. Positive misprisions are now only of antiquarian interest, being treated as misdemeanours.
In the United States, misprision of treason is defined to be the crime committed by a person owing allegiance to the United States, and having knowledge of the commission of any crime against them, who conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the president or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor, or to some judge or justice of a particular state. The punishment is imprisonment for not more than seven years and a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.