Maryland Assault and Battery Laws

Maryland divides assaults into first and second degrees, depending on the seriousness of the crime.

By , Attorney · UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law
Updated by Kelly Martin, Attorney · Golden Gate University School of Law
Updated 7/11/2024

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.

What Is Considered Assault in Maryland?

In Maryland, a person can commit an assault in three different ways:

  • committing a battery
  • attempting a battery, or
  • placing another in reasonable fear of a battery.

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 (2024); Lamb v. State, 93 Md. App. 422, 428 (1992).)

What Is First-Degree Assault in Maryland?

Assault in the first degree is the most serious kind of assault. The crime is a felony and occurs when someone:

  • intentionally causes or attempts to cause "serious physical injury" to someone
  • commits the assault with a firearm, or
  • strangles someone (regardless of whether it causes or was intended to cause injury).

Serious physical injury is defined as an injury that:

  • creates a substantial risk of death; or
  • causes permanent or protracted serious disfigurement or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.

Examples of first-degree assault include shooting someone, breaking someone's arm by pushing them down a set of stairs, or causing someone internal bleeding by repeatedly kicking them.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-201, 3-203 (2024).)

What Is Second-Degree Assault in Maryland?

An assault that doesn't fit in the definition of a first-degree assault is considered a second-degree assault in Maryland. Slapping, punching, hair pulling, and other acts that result in pain, bruises, cuts, or abrasions are examples of second-degree assault.

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 (2024).)

Other Assaults and Related Offenses in Maryland

In addition to first- and second-degree assault, Maryland has laws forbidding other types of assault and related conduct.

Assaults With Bodily Fluid Against Officers in Correctional Facilities

It's a misdemeanor for an incarcerated individual 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 (2024).)

Reckless Endangerment in Maryland

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 (2024).)

What Are the Penalties for Misdemeanor and Felony Assaults in Maryland?

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.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Assault in MD

The penalties for misdemeanor assault in the second degree, or by an inmate (with bodily fluid) against an employee, include up to 10 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 (2024).)

Penalties for Felony Assault in MD

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 (2024).)

Penalties for Reckless Endangerment in MD

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 (2024).)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

An assault conviction can have serious consequences, including time in prison, a substantial fine, and a serious criminal record. If you're charged with assault, 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.

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