Journalist's Guide

Offices of the Maryland State’s Attorneys

Overview In the area of criminal law, the responsibility of prosecuting all criminal cases generally rests with the State’s Attorney for the jurisdiction in which the offense occurred. In Maryland, each political jurisdiction (the counties and Baltimore City) are served by an elected State’s Attorney, who serves a four-year term. Aiding the State’s Attorney in the performance of their duties are a number of Assistant State’s Attorneys who are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the State’s Attorney. The number of Assistant State’s Attorneys varies from county to county, depending on the population, caseload, and the appropriation of funds by the local government. The size of the various State’s Attorneys’ offices in Maryland range from three prosecutors in smaller jurisdictions to hundreds in Baltimore City. Most offices have at least one deputy State’s Attorney, who serves as second- in-command. Many offices aid law enforcement by giving advice on an investigation and by serving as the legal advisor to law enforcement. Several offices have civilian investigators hired by the State’s Attorney. Many larger offices have specialized units handling specific crimes – some are exclusive units and handle only specific types of cases. These units are typically narcotics, white-collar crime or fraud, and violent crime/homicide units. Additionally, larger offices are divided into divisions, based on where the case will be heard. In those offices you will find District Court, Circuit Court and Juvenile Court divisions. Purpose: The two major functions of the Office of the State’s Attorney are (1) to prosecute at trial all violations of Maryland law that have a criminal sanction, and (2) to investigate criminal activity within its jurisdiction. Prosecutors have several tools available to fulfill this function. The State’s Attorney has the power to issue subpoenas to compel the release of records held within its jurisdiction. Further, the State’s Attorney may request the issuance of a grand jury subpoena for records anywhere in Maryland. Additionally, the grand jury may summons an individual to appear before it and answer questions regarding matters under investigation by the State’s Attorney. All proceedings, summonses, subpoenas, and testimony before the grand jury are strictly confidential and may not be revealed by the prosecutor. This protects the target of the investigation from what may be unfounded allegations. Most prosecutors will answer any questions dealing with a matter before the grand jury with “no comment.” Powers: The office of the State’s Attorney is prescribed by the Maryland Constitution and Maryland statutes. The powers of the State’s Attorneys themselves are nowhere specifically enumerated and defined with the result the State’s Attorneys are vested with the broadest discretion.


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