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Maryland First-Degree Murder

Murder in the first degree is the most serious homicide crime in Maryland. It’s generally defined as the intentional killing of another person by waiting for the victim, poisoning, or felony murder (explained below). In May 2013, Maryland abolished the death penalty. Since 2013, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is the most severe punishment that can be imposed.

Felony Murder

States often incorporate the felony murder rule, or causing the death of another while committing or attempting to commit a serious violent crime (battery, sexual assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, arson, burglary, carjacking, robbery), into first-degree murder. In Maryland, it’s a part of the first-degree murder statute, which includes a specific list of felonies that can result in a first-degree murder charge, if someone dies during the commission or attempt of the felonies.

Penalties and Sentencing

Maryland first-degree murder cases where life without the possibility of parole is an option are divided into two parts. In the first part of the trial, guilt or innocence is determined. If the defendant is found guilty, the second phase of the trial begins which considers sentencing, namely whether life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole is best.

Maryland First Degree Murder Laws: Statute

The following table outlines Maryland’s first-degree murder law.

Code Section Maryland Criminal Law Code, Section 2-201: Murder in the First Degree
What Is Prohibited?

First-degree murder in Maryland is a deliberate, premeditated (previously considered), and willful killing of a human being committed by lying in wait for a victim, by poisoning, or while committing or attempting any of the following violent felonies:

  • Arson (1st degree only)
  • Burning a barn, stable, or warehouse that contains cattle, horses, or goods
  • Burglary (all but 4th degree)
  • Carjacking
  • Escape from custody
  • Kidnapping
  • Mayhem
  • Rape or 1st or 2nd degree sexual offense 
  • Robbery
  • Sodomy
  • Manufacturing or possession destructive devices
Penalties Since the 2013 abolition of the death penalty, a person who commits murder in the first degree can be sentenced to life imprisonment either with or without the possibility of parole.

To be convicted of life imprisonment without parole the prosecutor must inform the defendant of their intention to seek that penalty at least 30 days before trial. Additionally, the jury must unanimously decide to impose the sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

It’s important to work with your attorney or public defender to determine what defense(s) are best for your case. Some defenses, if believed by the judge or jury, will result in a not guilty verdict, such as innocence.

Others defenses, such as self-defense or voluntary intoxication (getting drunk or high by choice) may be only partial. These partial defenses, could only reduce first degree murder to a lower murder charge, such as second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. Possibly the defenses will only be a mitigating or lessening of worthiness of punishment factors in considering sentencing options.

Note: State laws change frequently, be sure to conduct your own legal research or consult a Maryland criminal law attorney to verify the accuracy of this information.

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Charged with First-Degree Murder in Maryland? Contact an Attorney

First-degree murder is one of the most serious crimes you can be charged with and carries the most severe penalties, including the possibility of life in prison. Whether you're charged with first-degree murder or petty theft, it's in your best interest to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss the charges and learn about the legal options available to you.

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