Journalist's Guide

any event, never, ever remove anything from a court file, never remove a file without permission, and never open a sealed document.

Accessing Records in MDEC Courts In MDEC courts all case records can be accessed through public kiosk computers in the clerk’s offices and law libraries. All case records, including documents, are available on the kiosk computers. This means you do not have to ask a clerk to get a file for you. As long as you have the case number you can view all public documents in a case at the click of a mouse. Preliminary research can still be done by reviewing docket entries on Case Search, but to view documents you will still need to visit the courthouse. One additional benefit of MDEC is that cases can be viewed from across the state. That is, if you are using a courthouse kiosk computer in Allegany County you can view documents from cases in Wicomico County. Documents can be printed for a fee. Recordings You generally have options for obtaining a record of what went on in court: ordering a transcript from the court reporter who was present, watching or purchasing a video recording if the courtroom was equipped with fixed cameras, or, if the case was in the District Court, listening to or purchasing a digital audio recording. Take note that the audio and video quality of the court recordings are not broadcast quality.

Sooner or later, you should be able to get access to a record of what happened in court. But, the best and quickest way, of course, is to be there.

Don't just use the court records for court stories. The courthouse is an excellent source of material and people on virtually any subject.

Criminal Files In criminal cases set for the Circuit Court, you’ll typically find a copy of the indictment that lists the formal charges, the victim, the defendant, and names of witnesses expected to testify. In District Court, you’ll find the statement of charges, which is essentially the police narrative of what happened. As the case progresses, you will find bail information, the person’s date of birth and address, subpoenas for witnesses, police documents, evidentiary challenges, etc. You may also see letters from experts hired by the defense, information from the defendant’s relatives, etc. Victim notification forms go into the file, too, and they have addresses and phone numbers. (Discretion is recommended. See the Codes of Ethics at the end of the Guide .) If a case starts in District Court and is then indicted as a felony (and so moved up to Circuit Court), you should find the statement of charges in the Circuit Court file. But, if the case started as a grand jury investigation, you won’t find any account of the facts in the file, and will have to go to the investigators – and to the witnesses listed on the indictment – to piece together what happened. Grand jury proceedings and transcripts are secret in Maryland, though occasionally transcripts later become part of the public record at an attorney’s request.


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