Maryland Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences

In Maryland, sentences for misdemeanors can range from 30 days in jail or a fine to several years in prison. Learn how sentencing works in the state.

By , Legal Editor

In most states, the difference between a misdemeanor and felony is 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. Maryland laws designate crimes as misdemeanors or felonies, but some misdemeanors carry potential sentences of imprisonment for several years—even as long as 10 or 20 years—while the maximum sentences for a few felonies in Maryland are as short as a year. Moreover, you might be sentenced to state prison for a misdemeanor, depending on the length of your sentence and where you live.

Some minor violations of laws—such as many traffic violations, as well as possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana—are considered civil offenses rather than crimes. For these offenses, you only receive a citation and fine. (Md. Code, Crim Law § 5-601.1 (2020).)

How Does Misdemeanor Sentencing Work in Maryland?

The laws for each misdemeanor 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 most misdemeanors, judges may impose fines, either alone or along with a sentence of incarceration.

Will You Serve a Misdemeanor Sentence in Jail or Prison?

If you're sentenced to incarceration for 12 months or less, you'll serve that time in local jail, unless you're sentenced in Baltimore City 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. Any sentence longer than 18 months, even if it's for a misdemeanor, would be served in state prison. (Md. Code, Corr. Serv. §§ 9-104, 9-105, 9-106 (2020).)

Examples of Misdemeanor Sentences in Maryland

To give you an idea of the range of crimes that Maryland labels as misdemeanors—and the potential sentences for those crimes—here are a few examples:

  • Use of an assault weapon during a felony or violent crime: at least five years and up to 20 years imprisonment.
  • Second-degree assault: up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
  • Child neglect: up to five years and/or $5,000.
  • Cyberbullying: up to three years and/or $10,000.
  • Deliberately exposing others to an infectious disease (such as deliberately spreading COVID-19) by being in a public place without taking precautions: up to one year and/or $500.
  • Theft of property or services worth at least $100 but less than $1,500: up to six months and/or a fine of up to $500, plus a requirement to restore the stolen property or pay the owner its value.
  • Disorderly conduct: up to 60 days and/or $500.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 3-203, 3-602.1, 3-805, 4-306, 7-104, 10-201; Md. Code, Health-Gen. § 18-601 (2020).)

How Previous Convictions Affect Misdemeanor Sentences in Maryland

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor and have a previous conviction for the same crime, you may face stiffer penalties. Some laws simply increase the maximum allowable penalty, while others add a mandatory minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offense. For instance:

  • Carrying a handgun without a permit: The penalty for a first offense must be at least 30 days and no more than three years imprisonment and/or a $250-$2,500 fine; for a second offense, it increases to at least one year and no more than 10 years imprisonment, with no option of a fine.
  • Driving under the influence: up to one year and/or $1,000 for a first offense; for a second offense, the maximum penalty increases to two years and/or $2,000, but there's also a mandatory minimum of five days in jail if the second offense was within five years of the previous conviction.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 4-203; Md. Code, Trans. § 21-902 (2020).)

Suspended Sentences and Alternatives to Incarceration

Under some circumstances, Maryland judges may suspend all or part of sentence for incarceration and place the defendant on probation, with conditions. Those conditions may include home detention or successful completion of an inpatient drug or alcohol treatment. (Md. Code, Crim. Proc. §§ 6-219, 6-221, 6-225, 6-230 (2020).)

Statute of Limitations: When Can Authorities Bring Misdemeanor Charges?

A "statute of limitations" is a deadline for starting legal proceedings—filing criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. In criminal cases, the time period starts when the alleged crime took place (although the "clock" may pause under certain limited circumstances). For misdemeanors, the criminal statute of limitations in Maryland is generally one year, but there are many exceptions. For example, charges for misdemeanor theft may be brought within two years, and the statute of limitations for computer crimes is three years. (Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-106 (2020); Md. Code, Crim. Law § 7-104 (2020).)

The Value of Good Representation

A conviction for a misdemeanor crime in Maryland can have serious consequences. In addition to the possibility of a long prison sentence for more serious misdemeanors, conviction for even a minor crime can hurt you when you're looking for a job or an apartment. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options, or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, help you make decisions about your case, and protect your rights.

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.

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