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Crime punishment sometimes inconsistent


The severity of punishment in Maryland's criminal justice system is sometimes illogical. Many years of repeals and changes in its criminal statutes often caused inconsistency and unintended consequences.

For example, injuring a race horse is classified as a felony while failure to report a more serious offense, such as death of a minor, is only a misdemeanor. Both crimes, while different in severity, carry a maximum three-year sentence.

Trading or selling a child for money is only a misdemeanor penalized by five years of imprisonment. Other less severe misdemeanors such as bribing a public official and bribing a juror have higher punishments of 12 years and six years of incarceration, respectively. Other misdemeanors have more severe penalties than some felonies

A bill was recently introduced in the Maryland Senate which would, if passed, empower a task force to review the Maryland Code, find inconsistencies and recommend changes to the state's criminal and civil law penalties. The task force would include members from the judiciary branch, the Attorney General, the Maryland Sentencing Commission, Office of Crime and Prevention, State Attorney's Association, Office of the Public Defender, the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board and other members selected by the Senate and the House of Delegates.

The bill's sponsors introduced the measure to provide for a more efficient and rational criminal statute code modeled on other states, such as Illinois. In that state, misdemeanors are classified into Class A misdemeanors punishable by serving less than one year in a county jail; Class B with a sentence that cannot exceed six months; and, a Class C misdemeanor that has a maximum 30-day sentence.

Illinois felonies also fall within six classifications based upon the severity of the offense and govern more serious crimes such as murder, rape, manslaughter, robbery, burglary, sodomy, larceny and arson. Typical misdemeanors in Illinois include less violent and relatively minor offenses such as petty theft, disruption of the peace, traffic offenses and public intoxication.

This measure passed the Senate earlier this month and was recently introduced in the House of Delegates. If enacted, the task force would have to complete its review and make recommendations by Dec. 31, 2018.

An attorney can help assure that a defendant is treated fairly and wage a criminal defense under the current code. They can also help with an appropriate plea negotiation under the circumstances.

Source: The Frederick News-Post, "The line between felonies and misdemeanors is blurry: Bill aims to clean up Maryland criminal, civil codes," By Danielle E. Gaines, March 11, 2017

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