Journalist's Guide

The Maryland State Court System and its Agencies

Overview As Robert Bell, former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals once said, “there is no justice in Maryland”: a subtle reminder there is no member of the state’s judiciary with the title “Justice.” They are all called “judge.” Maryland has a four-tiered court system of trial courts and appellate courts. The trial courts are the District Court of Maryland and the Circuit Courts for each county and Baltimore City. The appellate courts are the Court of Special Appeals, in which a panel of three judges reviews each case, and the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. District Court Each county and the city of Baltimore has at least one District Court location. The District Court is a unified state court with a chief judge and chief clerk. Generally speaking, the District Court has jurisdiction over all misdemeanors and the Circuit Court has jurisdiction over all felonies, although some felonies and some misdemeanors are within the concurrent jurisdiction of either the District Court or Circuit Court. For example, misdemeanors for which the potential sentence can be up to three years of confinement or a fine of $2,500 or more can be heard by either the district or Circuit Court. In the civil area, the District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases. It also has jurisdiction over small claims cases which involve amounts of $5,000 and below. It shares jurisdiction with Circuit Court for domestic violence and civil cases that involve claims between $5,000 and up to $30,000. Judges generally wear black robes except for the judges of the Court of Appeals, who wear scarlet robes.

A District Court case is tried before a judge only, and an entire trial rarely goes more than two hours.

Because there are no jury trials in District Court, a person must request one in a timely fashion if they are entitled to a jury trial for a criminal or civil case. If a party requests a jury trial, the case is moved to Circuit Court.

Court Commissioners issue arrest warrants and conduct bail reviews around-the-clock and may issue peace and protective orders. They are part of the District Court as well.


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