Under Maryland law, the crime of assault happens when someone makes or attempts to make offensive contact with another. The crime can be assault in the first degree (felony) or assault in the second degree (misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts). This article covers basic assault laws in Maryland. For more information on assault related to domestic violence, see Maryland Domestic Violence Laws.
In Maryland, a person can commit an assault in three different ways:
A battery is unwanted harmful or offensive contact. So, assaults based on battery and attempting a battery result from such contact or attempted contact. Here are some examples: punching someone is an assault because it's a battery. Throwing a punch at someone but missing is an assault because it's an attempted battery.
An assault based on the victim's fear of battery results when the assaulter does something physical with the intent to make the victim afraid. A person isn't guilty of an assault unless the victim's fear was reasonable, which essentially means the average person would have been fearful of a battery under the same circumstances.
For example, lunging at someone with a raised fist to frighten them could be considered an assault, even if there's no intent to actually touch them. Most people would reasonably fear they were about to be hit, even if the other person had no intent to follow through.
To be an assault, the defendant's act must be intentional (intending to cause harmful or offensive contact) or reckless (disregarding a serious risk of offensive contact). A deliberate slap would be intentional. Swinging a beer bottle in a crowded bar and accidentally hitting someone would probably be considered reckless. But pushing someone because you tripped would be accidental, so it wouldn't be an assault.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-201 (2023); Lamb v. State, 93 Md. App. 422, 428 (1992).)
Assault in the first degree is the most serious kind of assault. The crime is a felony and occurs when someone:
Serious physical injury is defined as an injury that:
(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-201, 3-203 (2023).)
An assault that doesn't fit in the definition of a first degree assault is considered a second degree assault in Maryland.
Generally, second degree assaults are misdemeanors. But the offense is a felony when it causes an injury (more than a minor injury) to a police officer, correctional officer, parole agent, probation agent, firefighter, emergency medical technician, rescue squad member, or any other first responder engaged in providing emergency medical care or rescue services. To be guilty of an assault with injury against an officer, the person must know or have reason to know that the victim is an officer and is performing official duties.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 3-203 (2023).)
In addition to first and second degree assault, Maryland has laws forbidding other types of assault and related conduct.
It's a misdemeanor for an inmate to intentionally cause or attempt to cause any employee of a correctional facility to come into contact with any bodily fluids, including semen, urine, feces, or blood (so long as the blood isn't from an injury incurred during contact between the inmate and the employee).
(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 3-205 (2023).)
It's a misdemeanor in Maryland to recklessly do things that create a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person. For example, placing a loaded gun where a child could find it would probably be considered reckless endangerment.
Reckless endangerment doesn't apply to the sale or manufacture of any product or the use of a motor vehicle. (But seriously injuring or endangering others while driving can be crimes under laws that punish criminal negligence and DUI).
Under Maryland's reckless endangerment law, it's a misdemeanor to discharge a firearm from a vehicle in a way that creates a substantial risk of death or serious injury. The law doesn't apply to police officers and security guards engaged in their official duties and people defending themselves from violent crime.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 3-204 (2023).)
Someone suspected of an assault in Maryland could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of the case. The possible punishment is harshest for felonies, but even misdemeanors carry a potentially long sentence.
The penalties for misdemeanor assault in the second degree, or by an inmate (with bodily fluid) against an employee, include up to ten years in jail or prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. An inmate convicted of a bodily fluid assault must serve the sentence for that offense consecutive to any other sentence they're already serving.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-203, 3-205 (2023).)
First degree assault can result in up to 25 years in prison.
Felony assault for injury (not serious) against a law enforcement officer or first responder carries the same possible incarceration term as misdemeanor assault (up to 10 years), but the possible fine increases to $5,000.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-202, 3-203 (2023).)
Reckless endangerment is punishable by up to five years in jail or prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 3-204 (2023).)
An assault conviction can have very serious consequences, including time in prison, a substantial fine, and a serious criminal record. If you're charged with assault, you should contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney should be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court based on the facts of your case, and can help you mount the strongest possible defense. They should also have a good idea of whether dismissal, diversion, probation, or a plea deal is possible.