Journalist's Guide

The Criminal Process

Overview When it comes to criminal trials in Maryland, nearly all felonies are tried in Circuit Court and misdemeanors in District Court. However, there are some charges that provide for jurisdiction in both courts (concurrent jurisdiction) and it is up to the State’s Attorney’s Office to decide, at least initially, in which court a case will be heard. In the District Court, a defendant has the option to “pray” a jury trial – a legal term for requesting a jury trial in the Circuit Court. Cases that are eligible are those for which the penalties call for more than 90 days in jail and/or fines of $2,500 or more. In some jurisdictions a defendant’s jury trial request in the District Court results in a nearly immediate jury trial in the Circuit Court. There is one overriding concern in Circuit Court criminal trials; the case be held within a 180- day period which begins at the earlier of one of two events: the defendant’s initial appearance in Circuit Court or the entry of appearance by the defendant’s attorney. However, upon a finding of “good cause” by the court, the case can be scheduled beyond a 180-day period.

The Process Defendants are charged and tried on charging documents. The types of charging documents include indictment, information, citation and statement of charges.

Less serious criminal cases are charged in the District Court by either citation or statement of charges . The most common District Court charging mechanism is filing of a statement of charges, either caused by a police officer’s arrest or by a citizen’s complaint taken to a District Court commissioner. The filing of a statement of charges in District Court requires an accompanying affidavit stating a factual basis of the probable cause for criminal charges. The affidavit serves as one of the earliest summaries of the factual underpinnings of the state’s case. It is at this time that the District Court commissioner must determine whether or not to issue a summons or an arrest warrant. If a summons is issued, no arrest is made. Instead, the person charged is simply given a copy of the charge and ordered to appear in court.

Statements of charges for crimes such as murder, rape and robbery can be filed in the District Court. While the District Court does not have jurisdiction to try such crimes, it does allow for someone to be held temporarily pending charges being filed in the Circuit Court.

Citations are issued directly by law enforcement officers. The citation commands the defendant’s appearance in court when notified of the date. Citations are only available for petty


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