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Felony vs. Misdemeanor Charges in Maryland

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By Marc Emden, Esq.

If you are charged with a felony in the State of Maryland, the general rule implies that you are facing at least one year of potential jail time for the charge. Misdemeanor charges usually carry a maximum in jail of one year or less.

This was the general rule before the Maryland legislature started to enter the field of criminal law. Now, if you are charged with a crime you must research the crime to determine whether the law is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor!

More Jail for a Misdemeanor than a Felony?

Surprisingly some misdemeanors carrying longer potential jail sentences than felonies do. For example, the charge of 2nd-degree assault carries up to 10 years in jail while possession of marijuana/heroin and other substances with intent to distribute is a felony, but carries a maximum in jail of only 5 years!

While there is no direct path which clearly differentiates a felony from a misdemeanor, the general rule is that felonies are classified as more serious crimes than misdemeanors.

The Classification of a Crime as Either Misdemeanor vs. a Felony is Important for Several Reasons

  1. Felonies may have greater consequences for immigration purposes;
  2. Most felony charges in Maryland must be tried in the Circuit (more serious) Court;
  3. Conviction of a felony charge may disqualify you from serving on a jury;
  4. Conviction of a felony may also prevent you from:
    1. Being hired for government jobs;
    2. Eligibility for receiving public housing;
    3. Serving as a police officer or other law enforcement jobs;
    4. Being a lawyer;
    5. Receiving social security benefits; and
    6. Voting.

Examples of Felonies

  • Burglary
  • Weapons offenses
  • Most sex crimes
  • Kidnapping
  • Murder
  • Vehicular Homicide

Examples of Misdemeanors

  • Petty theft
  • Assault in the second degree
  • Violation of a protective/peace order
  • Possession of drugs

Felony Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations consist of rules which prohibit the State of Maryland from instituting criminal charges against someone if the crime was committed beyond the stated period of time for initiating the charges.

There is no general statute of limitations for felonies in Maryland. There may be limitations periods for select individual offenses.

  • Murder, manslaughter, or unlawful homicide: no limit
  • Misdemeanors in general: punishment under one year have a one-year statute of limitations;
  • Misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment over one year: no limit
  • Welfare offenses: within three years

For a list of some others with limitations periods, please examine the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceeding Article § 5-106.

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