What is the Law on affray in Maryland and what are the Punishments for it?
The State prescribes certain limitations to individuals regarding acceptable conduct in the presence of a public gathering or at public places. In simple words, certain laws explain what people can and cannot do in public places, on public properties and in the presence of other people, with the motive to keep communities operate in order, smoothly, calmly, and peacefully.
Any breach of these limitations is deemed to be disorderly conduct which may be punished as a misdemeanor or in some cases, a felony. Affray is a type of such disorderly conduct and the Laws of affray fall in the category of Laws for community welfare and public peace.
Affray is actually a common law term of the colonial era and it represents the offense of two or more people fighting in a public place such that it terrorizes people. In codified law, there is no such word as affray, but the misdemeanor of fighting in a public place. The key elements of this crime are:
- Fighting – An act which comprises of unwanted physical contact and likely to cause a physical injury is identified as an assault. When two or more beings assault each other, it is identified as a fight. In the Affray, the incidence of fighting is necessary.
- Fighting between two or more people – A fight between animals or individual fighting with animals does not constitute an affray. It may be viewed as cruelty on animals or reckless misconduct by the owner of such animals, but it is certainly not affray. In affray, the act of fighting must involve two or more human beings.
- The fighting must terrorize people – It is not necessary for people to witness the fight to have a feeling of terror, mere awareness of the fight is sufficient. In many states, the happening of terror is important, but in the State of Maryland, the prosecution only has to prove the likelihood of terror. Irrespective of fights being planned or spontaneous, caused by an outburst of excitement or deliberate provocation, whatever the reason, even if the people are certain that the fight will not have spillover effect of injury or damage to anyone other than the participants, if the slightest possibility exists where the likelihood of some people feeling terrorized is highly probable, it is identified as the offense of affray.
In Maryland, Affray is still a common law offense. It is not stipulated in any statutes; hence it has no statutory limitations of any kind i.e. any limitation to delay in reporting, interpretation of the crime, prescription of punishment or even the criteria of defense.
The only limitation is that the punishment is not cruel and unusual and if prosecuted with the statutory offense of assault, have the same prescribed limit as assault, wherein simple assault may have imprisonment of 10 years, which itself is unusual.
Maryland does have a statutory law for disorderly conduct, but it is not explicit about affray, hence the discretion lies with the court to try the proceedings under statutory or common law.
Codified under Maryland Criminal Law Code, Section 10-201, the law for disorderly conduct only identifies affray under its fold when it involves willful obstruction of free passage of people to or from a public place, willful act of disturbing public peace wherein if any participant of affray is unwilling, then he/she is not tried under this section, disregard to instructions by a police officer or entering the premises of a person to disturb peace.
In either of the aforesaid situations, affray is treated as a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of 60 days and a maximum fine of $500. All other forms of affray are common law offenses which are punishable as felonies.