Most states distinguish misdemeanors from felonies based on the potential sentence, with misdemeanors punishable by a year or less in jail and felonies punishable by more than a year in prison. In Maryland, the maximum sentences for felonies are one year or more, but some sentences might be served in county jail rather than prison. And because misdemeanors in Maryland may carry sentences of more than a year—even as long as 10 or 20 years—felonies aren't necessarily more serious than misdemeanors.
The laws for each felony in Maryland establish the maximum allowable penalty for that crime—and sometimes a mandatory minimum penalty. Within those limits, it's up to the judge to decide the actual penalty to impose in any case after considering the circumstances of the crime, as well as the defendant's background. Maryland does have complicated sentencing guidelines and worksheets to help judges make that decision. Although judges must consider these guidelines, they aren't legally required to follow them. (Md. Code, Crim. Proc. § 6-216 (2020).)
For a few felonies, judges may impose fines as penalties, either alone or along with a sentence of incarceration.
Typically, felony sentences are served in state prison. But if your sentence is for 12 months or less, you'll serve that time in local jail, unless you're sentenced in the City of Baltimore or you committed the crime while you were in prison. For a sentence between 12 and 18 months, the judge may order you to serve the time in local jail or state prison. (Md. Code, Corr. Serv. §§ 9-104, 9-105, 9-106 (2020).)
Also, some individual felonies specifically allow the option of a sentence to jail rather than prison. For instance, the penalty for manslaughter is either (1) up to 10 years imprisonment; or (2) up to two years in local jail and/or a fine of up to $500. (Md. Code, Crim. Law § 2-207 (2020).)
To give you an idea of the kinds of crimes that are considered felonies in Maryland, as well as the range of sentences for those crimes, here are a few examples:
(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 2-201, 3-202, 3-304(c)(2), 5-612, 6-202, 7-104, 10-606; Md. Code, Fam. Law §§ 9-307 (2020).)
Maryland requires mandatory minimum sentences for defendants who are convicted of a violent crime for a second or subsequent time. The mandatory minimums are 10 years for a second conviction, 25 years for a third, and life without parole for a fourth crime of violence. (Md. Code, Crim. § 14-101 (2020).)
The law also calls for increased penalties for a few other repeat offenses, such as the illegal manufacture or distribution of narcotics. (Md. Code, Crim. Law § 5-608 (2020).)
Under some circumstances, Maryland judges may suspend all or part of sentence for incarceration and place the defendant on probation with conditions—which may include home detention with electronic monitoring. (Md. Code, Crim. Proc. §§ 6-219, 6-221, 6-225, 6-230 (2020).)
States generally set a time limit (known as a "statute of limitations") for bringing criminal charges. However, there's no criminal statute of limitations in Maryland for felonies. That means that prosecutors could charge you with a felony no matter how much time has passed since the alleged crime took place.
A felony conviction can have serious, long-term negative consequences even after you've served the sentence. If you're facing felony charges, it's critical that you speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help you gather evidence to support your case, negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that's appropriate, represent you at trial if it comes to that, and protect your rights throughout the criminal proceedings.
Look Out for Legal Changes
States can change their laws at any time. You can find the current version of any statute mentioned in this article by using this search tool from the Library of Congress. But you should also know that court opinions can affect how judges interpret and apply the law, which is another reason to consult a lawyer if you're worried about actual or potential criminal charges.