In Maine, misdemeanor-level offenses—Class D and E crimes—are punishable by up to one year in county jail. Felonies—Class A, B, and C crimes—are more serious crimes, punishable by terms of one year or more and up to life in state prison. This article will review how misdemeanor-level classifications and sentencing work in Maine. For more information on Class A, B, and C crimes, check out Maine Felony 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. Class D and E crimes carry maximum fines and jail terms. In some circumstances, elevated penalties may also apply.
Under Maine's laws, a Class D crime is punishable by up to 364 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Examples of Class D crimes include violation of a protective order, simple assault, and joyriding (unauthorized use of a vehicle).
Maine increases penalties for certain repeat offenders and offenses involving dangerous weapons. The sentencing class for such a crime is one class higher, which means a Class E crime bumps up to a Class D crime and a Class D crime becomes a felony Class C crime. Similarly, the law provides that certain individual misdemeanor offenses can be charged as felonies if the offender has several prior convictions. For example, a misdemeanor theft offense becomes a felony-level offense (Class C) if the person has two or more prior theft-related convictions.
While crimes are generally distinguished by the amount of time one could spend in jail, this penalty is just one of several sentencing options available to judges. A convicted offender might not spend any time behind bars. Judges will look at several factors when deciding the appropriate sentence, including:
Defendants often plead guilty as part of a plea agreement reached with the State (the prosecutor). Judges aren't obligated to accept the sentencing terms in a plea deal, but in most cases, the state and defense attorney will have a general understanding of what a judge will or will not go along with. If a defendant goes to trial and is convicted, it's again the judge who will decide the sentence. For Class D and E crimes, the judge usually imposes a sentence immediately upon conviction.
Judges in Maine have considerable discretion when handing down a sentence. Judges can order one or more of the following sentencing options:
Some counties have treatment or diversionary court programs that address defendants whose criminal behavior is related to substance abuse or mental health issues.
When handing down jail sentences, judges can impose up to the maximum allowed in law. For misdemeanors, the maximums go up to six months or 364 days. (Offenders serving more than a year's imprisonment will usually serve that time in state prison.)
When permitted by law, a judge may order what's called a split sentence. Here, the judge sentences the defendant but holds off on making the defendant serve all or a portion of the jail time. During the suspended portion, the defendant must comply with terms of probation or administrative release. A judge can revoke the suspended sentence and send the defendant to jail for violating the release terms.
Common release terms include remaining law-abiding, requiring participation in treatment or counseling, maintaining or pursuing employment, and paying restitution to victims. Probation is generally supervised, while administrative release is not. Most Class D and E crimes do not qualify for probation.
Defendants who suffer from substance abuse or mental health disorders may apply to participate in a treatment court (if offered in their county). Treatment court involves intensive judicial oversight by a team that includes the judge, prosecutor, a defense lawyer, probation officer, case manager, mentor, and treatment provider. Defendants must plead guilty and agree to program requirements, which may include attending regular court hearings, participating in treatment, meeting with a mentor or supervisor, and remaining law-abiding. Treatment courts provide incentives for complying with requirements and strict sanctions for noncompliance. When entering the program, the defendant agrees to one outcome for successful completion and another for unsuccessful completion.
Prosecutors may offer defendants who plead guilty to a Class D or E crime a chance at a deferred disposition, subject to court approval. Under a deferred disposition, the court delays entering the sentence for a set time period during which 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 a sentence.
A criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can have serious consequences. If you are charged with a crime in Maine, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be familiar with how your case is likely to be treated in court based on the facts, the law, and the assigned judge and prosecutor. An attorney can protect your rights and help you successfully navigate the criminal justice system. Also talk to your lawyer about the consequences of having a criminal record in Maine, where sealing and expungement options are very limited.
(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 17-A, §§ 1502, 1602, 1603, 1604, 1610, 1704 , 1802, 1851, 1901-1903 (2021).)