Journalist's Guide

misdemeanors and when specifically authorized by statute. The most common citations are traffic and Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) citations.

Indictments require grand jury proceedings and are issued by the grand jury which determines if probable cause for a criminal charge exists. They apply only to Circuit Court cases. However, Circuit Court felonies may also be charged by what is called a criminal information . A criminal information may be filed when a preliminary hearing is held in the District Court resulting in a finding of probable cause or where the preliminary hearing is waived. It is authored solely by the State’s Attorney. A grand jury is required for the issuance of an indictment and a preliminary hearing is required prior to charging by criminal information under the theory some review other than that of the prosecutor is needed before a person is put on trial for a serious offense. It is not uncommon for indictments to be filed on the eve of the preliminary hearing date when a statement of charges has been filed in the District Court – thus avoiding the need for a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause. Within 24 hours of arrest, a defendant should be presented before a District Court judicial officer, usually a commissioner, where the defendant is advised of the charges and rights to counsel. If the charge is a felony under exclusive Circuit Court jurisdiction, the defendant shall be advised to a right to a preliminary hearing at which probable cause against him may be shown. At this initial appearance , the first pretrial release or bail determination is made. While the primary consideration for bail or release is whether conditions can be fashioned which will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant at trial, the defendant’s potential danger to the community if he were released is also a factor. Trials in the District Court are generally simpler than those in the Circuit Court. The first trial date is usually scheduled much sooner. Postponements are far less frequent. There is less discovery and usually less preparation by the defense and prosecution. Cases in the District Court principally involve misdemeanors although there are some felonies for which the circuit and District Courts share jurisdiction. There are no jury trials in District Court. As mentioned earlier, defendants who qualify and want jury trials must pray a jury trial to have the case moved to the Circuit Court. At the Circuit Court level, the first public event in the trial of a serious felony case is usually the initial appearance (formerly referred to as arraignment) which typically occurs within a month of a grand jury indictment. While an initial appearance may often be little more than a reading of the charges to the defendant by a court clerk, followed by the defendant’s perfunctory plea and request for either a jury or bench trial, it may provide an opportunity for the beginning of plea negotiations. Also, at or near the time of the initial appearance, some amount of discovery is


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