Maryland Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences

Learn how Maryland punishes felony offenses and when sentencing alternatives to prison may apply.

By , Legal Editor
Updated November 13, 2023

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.

How Does Felony Sentencing Work in Maryland?

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.

For a few felonies, judges may impose fines as penalties, either alone or along with a sentence of incarceration.

(Md. Code, Crim. Proc. § 6-216 (2023).)

Will You Serve a Felony Sentence in Jail or Prison?

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 (2023).)

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 (2023).)

Examples of Felony Crimes and Penalties in Maryland

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:

  • First-degree murder: life in prison or life without the possibility of parole.
  • Second-degree rape by an adult with a victim younger than 13: mandatory minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison.
  • Drug trafficking: mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison (no maximum), plus a fine of up to $100,000.
  • First-degree assault (which includes causing serious injury, strangulation, or assault with a gun): up to 25 years in prison.
  • First-degree burglary: up to 20 years in prison.
  • Theft of property worth at least $1,500 but less than $25,000: up to 5 years' incarceration and a fine of up to $5,000, plus an order to restore the property to the owner or pay for its value.
  • Aggravated animal cruelty: up to 3 years of incarceration and a $5,000 fine.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 2-201, 3-202, 3-304, 5-612, 6-202, 7-104, 10-606 (2023).)

Enhanced Penalties for Felonies in Maryland

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. Law § 14-101 (2023).)

Several crimes increase penalties when a person has repeat convictions for the same offense. For instance, increasing penalties apply to a second, third, or fourth offense for illegal manufacturing or distributing of narcotics. (Md. Code, Crim. Law § 5-608 (2023).)

Suspended Sentences and Alternatives to Incarceration in Maryland

Under some circumstances, Maryland judges may suspend all or part of a sentence of 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 (2023).)

Getting Legal Help

A felony conviction can have serious, long-term negative consequences even after you've served the sentence. If you're facing felony charges, 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.

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