How is the potential punishment for a given offense determined?
Kush: In Maryland, when a person is found guilty of committing a particular offense, there is always a maximum penalty associated with that offense. We do have common law offenses in Maryland, which don’t carry a penalty specifically and for which the judge has an opportunity to impose a fair and reasonable sentence. But most of our offenses are statutorily outlined to carry maximum amounts of jail time and maximum amounts of fines. Unlike other states where a jury might decide what kind of a sentence is imposed, in Maryland, no matter what kind of offense it is, a judge will ultimately decide what the sentence in a particular case will be. When it comes to misdemeanor offenses, judges make the decision but there are usually recommendations from the prosecution and the defense as to what an appropriate sentence would be. For felony offenses in the circuit court and in other cases that might be misdemeanor offenses heard by the circuit court, the judges are far more inclined to refer to the Maryland sentencing guidelines to determine what an appropriate sentence is for particular criminal acts. The sentencing guidelines take into account a person’s criminal history, the complainants in the matter, whether there was injury to the complainants in the matter, what, if any, vulnerabilities victims in a particular case might have had, as well as many other factors in order to determine what range of a sentence is appropriate for that case. This is based on the way other matters might have historically been handled in the state. The recommendations of the prosecution and the defense will also help the judge determine what an appropriate sentence is.
What is the difference between an active and suspended jail time?
Kush: Active jail time is jail time that somebody actually is serving. Suspended jail time is jail time that is not being served but could be served if the defendant violates any conditions that have been imposed as terms of probation.
What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
Kush: Misdemeanor charges are serious charges and felony charges are even more serious charges. A misdemeanor offense would be a DUI charge or possession of a controlled dangerous substance. These are the most common types of misdemeanors that we see. Felonies can range from something very minor and nonviolent, like a theft over a $1,000, all the way into the most violent offenses, like a first degree murder. The important distinction to remember is that usually felony charges are more serious cases and misdemeanors are less severe. But that is not to say that just because something is a misdemeanor it’s not a serious matter. A second degree assault charge or a simple assault charge are misdemeanor offenses but those carry the possibility of up to 10 years of incarceration.
How do Maryland courts treat felonies as compared to misdemeanors?
Kush: Felonies are more serious offenses so they are treated more seriously than misdemeanor offenses. Felony offenses are violent criminal acts or, when they’re nonviolent, they usually involve large amounts of money or large amounts of drugs in felony drug cases. These crimes are far more significant than misdemeanor offenses in terms of their impact on the community and on society. It is far more likely that judges are considering periods of jail time for felony offenses.