Assault in Maryland can be classified as a misdemeanor crime in certain circumstances. Misdemeanor assault includes the crimes of battery and assault and battery. Assault is generally defined as a threat that causes fear of imminent bodily harm in another person, while battery is defined as an actual harmful touching. Despite assault and battery having two different traditional legal definitions, Maryland groups both crimes together. Misdemeanor assault in Maryland is typically charged as second degree assault, and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. There are a variety of defenses to a charge of assault that a criminal defense lawyer can utilize at trial, but in many cases, before there is a trial the defendant must first fight to be released from jail. Misdemeanor assault cases usually begin with a statement of charges being filed by a police officer or an alleged victim. If a police officer makes an arrest the defendant will be brought before a District Court Commissioner, who may choose to hold the accused without bail until they see the judge the next day. While being held without bail on a misdemeanor is not the norm, in domestic cases commissioners often do not want to risk releasing a person who ends up committing another act of violence. In other words, the commissioner can in some cases be too afraid to do the right thing.
One of the most common defenses to a charge of assault in Maryland is self defense. Maryland does not have a separate statute for self defense in assault cases, and uses the common law. Common law is another term for case law, law that is created by appellate or trial judges in the courtroom. The common law for self defense in Maryland requires that a defendant in an assault case meet three conditions for his or her self defense argument to be legally sufficient. First, the defendant must have actually believed that he or she was in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm. Then the defendant's belief must be reasonable, and finally the defendant must use no more force than necessary to defend him or herself. If a defense lawyer provides the jury with evidence of these three conditions, the prosecuting attorney must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self defense. In other words, a criminal defense attorney does not have to prove self defense, but rather just introduce enough evidence to obtain the self defense jury instruction.
A Maryland criminal defense lawyer may also argue that his or her client acted in the defense of another person in order to bar prosecution. The defense of others defense requires the same three conditions as self defense, but also adds that the defendant's purpose in using force must be to aid the person being defended. Contrary to many states, Maryland law does impose a duty to retreat upon a person who is placed in danger before that person can legally use deadly force. Unlike states such as Florida, which has a controversial stand your ground law, Maryland requires making a reasonable effort to retreat except when the defendant is in his or her home, or if retreat is unsafe. Maryland laws also allow an assault charged to be dismissed based on a pretrial motion by the prosecuting lawyer provided that the victim and defendant agree to the dismissal, and that the court deems that dismissal is proper. If you have been arrested for assault in Maryland, or know someone that has been arrested or is being investigated for assault anywhere in Maryland contact an experienced Baltimore assault lawyer for a free consultation.