In most states, criminal charges are distinguished between misdemeanors and felonies. Typically, misdemeanor charges are less severe, rarely resulting in a jail term longer than one year. Felonies, on the other hand, usually consist of a state's most serious crimes.
While this is the common system in most jurisdictions, Maine does not technically follow this structure. In Maine, criminal offenses are not initially classified as either felonies or misdemeanors. Instead, each offense falls into one of five classes: Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E. Each class carries its own maximum punishment. Classes A, B, and C are treated as felonies. Class D and E charges are treated as misdemeanors.
While understanding these classes is important, any criminal conviction can have a serious negative impact on your life. In addition to serving time behind bars, you could face steep fines as well. Additionally, felony convictions also carry collateral consequences you might not expect. To give yourself the best chance to avoid a felony conviction and the consequences that come with it, it is critical that you contact the Law Offices of William H. Ashe right away.
Common Felony Offenses in Maine
Crimes that fall into classes A, B, or C – Maine's version of felony charges – include a wide variety of offenses. Class C offenses are the least severe of three felony classes, but that does not mean the consequences are not serious. Common Class C offenses include aggravated OUI, felony theft, or aggravated criminal mischief.
Class B offenses carry the second-most severe penalties under state law. Common examples of a Class B offense could include assault with a deadly weapon, drug trafficking, and certain sexual assault charges.
Class A offenses are the most serious crimes under Maine law. For that reason, they carry the stiffest penalties as well. Class A offenses include rape, murder, and aggravated trafficking of drugs.
Every felony charge in Maine is different, which makes examples useful. Consider the following.
You are driving home after a long night drinking after your shift at work. You fail to notice the stop sign until it is too late, and your drive right through the intersection. To make matters worse, there is a police officer behind you. You are arrested under suspicion of OUI, and your breath test reflects a BAC of .11 percent. While this would normally be charged as a misdemeanor, you have two prior OUI convictions. That makes this an aggravated OUI, which is a Class C crime.
Aggravated Drug Trafficking
You are driving to complete a drug deal with a pound of heroin in the trunk of your car. You pull into the scheduled meeting place: the parking lot of a local elementary school. When you step out of the car with the heroin, police swarm you. You face not just a drug trafficking charge, but a charge for aggravated drug trafficking. This is due to the amount of heroin in your possession as well as the transaction taking place in a school zone.
Range of Potential Penalties
The penalties that come with a criminal conviction in Maine depend on the offense's class. While the court will have wide latitude to apply the sentence, every class of offense has a sentencing range dictated by Maine sentencing guidelines. The court cannot stray from this range unless there are aggravating factors, which can upgrade a charge from one class to another. For example, if a weapon is used during the commission of a crime, the penalties upon conviction will be upgraded by one class.
Class A Offenses
Class A offenses carry the most severe penalties under state law. This should come as no surprise, given the serious nature of these charges. For nearly all Class A offenses, the maximum penalty available is 30 years in prison, a fine of no more than $50,000, or some combination of the two. However, a charge of murder is the exception. A murder conviction will result in a minimum sentence of 25 years up to a sentence of life in prison. Capital punishment has been barred in Maine since 1887.
Class B Offenses
While the penalties for a Class B offense do not carry the same weight as Class A charges, the potential for a lengthy prison sentence is still present. Upon conviction for a Class B offense, you could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of no more than $20,000, or a combination of both.
Class C Offenses
Class C offenses are closer to a misdemeanor than any other felony charge. That said, the maximum sentence for a Class C offense is five times longer than the maximum misdemeanor penalty. A conviction for a Class C charge carries a maximum prison term of five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or a combination of the two.
Collateral Consequences of a Felony
The penalties for a felony conviction that are written into state law are steep. However, these direct consequences are only some of the challenges that a conviction can bring. Additionally, there are other challenges in your personal life that a felony conviction could indirectly cause. This can include harm to your reputation or the limitation of certain legal rights. Common collateral consequences include:
- Loss of a professional license, including law license, nursing license, or CPA license;
- Loss of the right to vote;
- Loss of the right to own a firearm;
- Loss of custody rights;
- Difficulty maintaining employment;
- Difficult finding housing;
- Challenges with international travel; and
- Loss of a commercial driver's license.
While the damage to your reputation can occur based on an arrest alone, many of these consequences are avoidable if you are not convicted. The guidance of a skilled Maine criminal defense lawyer can go a long way towards prevailing in your criminal case.
How a Maine Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
While a favorable outcome in your case is never guaranteed, there are viable defenses for every type of felony charge under Maine law. To discuss what defenses might work best in your case, contact the Law Offices of William H. Ashe right away.