ANNAPOLIS — Under current Maryland law, it’s a felony to injure a race horse, but failing to report the death of a minor is a misdemeanor. Both crimes carry the same three-year maximum penalty.
Attempting to poison someone is a felony with a 10-year maximum sentence, compared to the misdemeanor crime of using a machine gun for aggressive purpose, which also carries a 10-year penalty.
In essence, criminal penalties in the state — cobbled together through new laws and repealed laws over the course of generations — can be a garbled mess.
“We sit in committee all the time and we’re like ‘What does this sound like to you? A one-year penalty, or a three-year, or a five-year penalty?’” said Frederick County Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, who sits on the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, which considers changes to criminal and civil law. “We have all these odd sentences in Maryland, where sometimes the misdemeanor carries a longer sentence or fine than the felony.”
Hough sponsored a bill this year that would charge a task force with sifting through the state’s penalties for all criminal and civil violations in the Maryland Code and make recommendations for changes.
The measure passed the Senate last week. It’s co-sponsored in the House of Delegates by Delegate Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat from Montgomery County.
Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is a cosponsor of the bill.
“This is the first attempt to try to make some order to the system,” Zirkin said on the Senate floor this week. “I think it’s a really important piece of legislation. It will be an interesting task force.”
He and Hough spoke about other states that have a more streamlined criminal code, including Illinois.
There, misdemeanors are divided into three classes: A, B, and C.
Class A misdemeanors are punishable by any term less than one year in a county jail; a Class B misdemeanor is punishable by not more than six months in jail; and a Class C misdemeanor is punishable by not more than 30 days in jail, Hough said.
Felonies in Illinois are broken down into six categories. First degree murder is a separate category and carries the greatest potential sentence.
As a general rule, typical misdemeanors include petty theft, disrupting the peace, assault and battery, public intoxication and traffic violations. Felonies are more serious crimes — often described through the short-hand acronym MR & MRS LAMB, which stands for murder, rape, manslaughter, robbery, sodomy, larceny, arson, mayhem, burglary.
If the bill is passed by both chambers, the task force will include members selected by the Senate, House of Delegates, state judiciary branch, Attorney General, Maryland Sentencing Commission, Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, State’s Attorney’s Association, Office of the Public Defender and the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board.
The group would be expected to complete its work by Dec. 31, 2018.
By then they will have sifted through a list of “inconsistent crime classifications” created by analysts at the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.
Another example: to bribe a public official, bribing jurors and selling, bartering or trading a child for money or anything of value are all misdemeanors. Those crimes carry respective penalties of 12 years, 6 years and five years in prison.