Under Maine's laws, crimes are classified as Class A, B, or C crimes (felony-level) or Class D or E crimes (misdemeanor-level). While Maine doesn't refer to felonies or misdemeanors in the criminal code, the state distinguishes them like most other states—by how long and where a person can be incarcerated. A person convicted of a felony-level Class A, B, or C crime faces incarceration of a year or more in state prison. Misdemeanor-level offenses—Class D and E crimes in Maine—are punishable by up to one year in a local jail.
This article will review how felony classifications and sentencing work in Maine for Class A, B, and C crimes. Find information on Class D and E crimes in Maine Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.
In Maine, like all other states, legislators define crimes and their maximum punishment in law. Judges impose sentences based on the convicted offense and the punishments allowed under the law.
The law sets a maximum prison sentence for all Class A, B, and C crimes. Some also have minimum sentences or elevated sentences. Murder is the only offense that doesn't have a classification. Rather the law sets a minimum and maximum term specific to murder crimes. Below are the maximum penalties by class and some examples of crimes that fall into each class.
Murder in Maine is punishable by 25 years' to life imprisonment.
Class A crimes are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. Examples of Class A crimes include manslaughter, kidnapping, and gross sexual assault of a child younger than 14.
Under Maine's laws, a Class B crime can result in a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $20,000. Robbery, burglary of a dwelling, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and theft of more than $10,000 are Class B crimes.
A Class C crime is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000. For example, a repeat stalking offense, tampering with a witness or juror, and possession of sexually explicit material of minors are Class C crimes.
Judges can typically order any sentence up to the maximum allowed. But some crimes impose mandatory minimum sentences that limit judges' discretion to sentence below that minimum. For instance, a defendant who commits a crime with a firearm faces a minimum sentence of one year for a Class C crime, two years for a Class B crime, and four years for a Class A crime. Certain drug crimes also carry minimum terms.
The law also elevates a crime's classification for certain violent offenses involving a dangerous weapon or when the offender has two or more prior convictions. If a conviction is subject to an elevated sentence, the maximum penalty increases by a class. So, for example, a Class B crime elevates to a Class A crime.
Once a defendant is convicted, a judge must decide what sentence to impose. Sentencing might occur immediately for Class D and E crimes, but typically for felony-level convictions, the judge will schedule a separate sentencing hearing later on.
A judge must consider the following factors when handing down a sentence:
A judge can order one or more of the following sentencing options:
When handing down prison sentences, judges can set any term within the limits of the law. Those limits (for the most part) are the maximum sentences, plus any applicable elevated or minimum sentence.
Say a defendant is convicted of a Class B crime involving a gun—the maximum sentence is ten years and, because a firearm was involved, a minimum sentence of two years also applies. The judge must look at all the factors listed above and decide the appropriate punishment within this two- to ten-year range. Judges have considerable discretion in determining what sentence to hand down.
When permitted by law, a judge may order what's called a split sentence. Here, the judge orders a set term of imprisonment (like above), but instead of serving the entire sentence, the defendant serves only a portion of it. The first part of the term will be spent behind bars (county jail or prison) and the remainder is suspended (placed on hold). During the suspended portion, the defendant must comply with terms of probation or risk having the suspended portion revoked and returning to jail.
Common probation terms include remaining law-abiding, requiring participation in treatment or counseling, maintaining or pursuing employment, paying restitution to victims, and reporting to a probation supervisor.
Similar to the split sentence, a judge may sentence the defendant but suspend the entire term of imprisonment and place the defendant on probation. Again, the sentence continues to loom over the defendant's head as an incentive to comply with the probation terms.
Defendants who plead guilty to Class C crimes or Class B drug crimes may be granted a deferred disposition by the judge. Here, the court delays entering the sentence, and in exchange for this deferred disposition, the defendant must comply with court-ordered terms. Upon successful completion of the terms, the State may agree to allow the person to withdraw their guilty plea and then dismiss the charges. This result means no conviction. But if the defendant inexcusably fails to comply with the terms, the court can impose the sentence.
The imprisonment term set by the judge represents the longest time an offender (now inmate) can serve in prison for that crime. Inmates must generally serve the entire sentence unless they earn credit deductions for good conduct and program participation during incarceration. (Maine no longer uses a system of parole where a board makes release decisions.)
If an inmate were to earn and keep the maximum amount of deductions allowed under the law, the most time they could shave off their term is 23%. (Prison Release State Report: Maine, Robina Inst. of Crim. L. & Just. (2021).) Credit deductions can be forfeited (even before they are earned) for various disciplinary violations.
Short of a governor pardon (which is rarely given), Maine's laws provide very little in terms of prison release options besides these possible credit deductions.
Statutes of limitations provide a time limit for the prosecution (the State) to file criminal charges against someone. If the State files charges after the time limit expires, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the case.
In Maine, the State must file charges for most Class A, B, and C crimes within six years of the commission of the offense. A longer time limit of 20 years applies to charges for unlawful sexual conduct and gross sexual assault. No time limits exist for charges of murder, first- or second-degree criminal homicide, and certain sexual assault crimes committed against a victim younger than 16. These crimes can be charged at any time.
Felony convictions have serious and long-lasting consequences. In Maine, adult convictions cannot be expunged. Having a felony in your public criminal record can make it difficult to obtain a job, housing, or a professional license. If you are charged with a felony in Maine, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be able to tell you what to expect in court and how to prepare your case to best protect your rights.
(Me. Rev. Stat., tit. 17-A, §§ 8, 1502, 1602, 1603, 1604, 1610, 1704, 1806, 1807, 1901-1903, 2307, 2308, 2314 (2021).)