Journalist's Guide

Federal Court System

United States District Court The United States District Court for the District of Maryland, not to be confused with the District Court of Maryland, is Maryland’s federal court. Not every case can be brought here, as some can only be brought in the state courts. Generally, it is the forum for a variety of federal criminal matters arising out of violations of the laws of the United States and a wide range of civil disputes, including cases raising federal issues under the Constitution, laws of the United States or civil actions between residents of different states, including corporations, in which at least $75,000 is in controversy. The court also includes the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which maintains a separate clerk’s office and docket. The U.S. District Court in Maryland has two divisions: the Northern Division, which sits in Baltimore City, and the Southern Division, which sits in Greenbelt. In accordance with the U.S. Constitution, judges of the court are appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They are appointed for life, but they can be removed through impeachment proceedings. These full-time federal District Court judges in Maryland preside over trials and hearings.

Assisting these “Article III” judges, named for the section of the Constitution authorizing their appointment, are “Magistrate Judges,” who are permitted to handle a wide variety of criminal and civil matters and, with the consent of the parties, may preside over civil trials.

Decisions of the U.S. District Court for Maryland may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond. It often hears cases while sitting in the various federal courthouses in its jurisdiction. Fourth Circuit decisions may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, though it is the rare appeal, which is taken up by the nine justices of the Supreme Court. The federal courts follow their own set of rules for civil, criminal and appellate courts.

Maryland federal District Court decisions are available at (click on “Recent Opinions”).

Decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit are available at (click on “Opinions”).

Office of the United States Attorney The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland serves as the federal government’s lawyer in Maryland. U.S. Attorneys prosecute violations of the nation’s criminal and civil laws, including


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