A criminal case involves the State of Maryland’s pursuit of a violation of a law for which there is a penalty and for which there is meant to be protection of the public, property or a person or persons. Although a person or business may apply for criminal prosecution the case involves the State of Maryland as the moving party; and is under the control of the Office of the State’s Attorney or the Attorney General’s Office. There are numerous ways that criminal charges can be filed, including applications by law enforcement or citizens/businesses, or by indictment by a Grand Jury.
Once a case is filed, it will be heard in either the District Court of the Circuit Court; depending on the specific charge, the exercise of a right to a jury and/or the potential period of incarceration. The judicial levels are District Court, Circuit Court, Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals. The first two involve evidence and testimony to reach a finding of facts, as well as the application of the law, while the second two review only the legal (and procedural) issues that were addressed below. Traffic citations may not involve jailable penalties, but they still involve violations of Maryland law and are pursued by the State of Maryland.
You have a constitutional right to defend yourself against any claims made by the State that you violated the law; and the State has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. You have the right to challenge the State’s evidence and witnesses, present your own evidence or witnesses, and can elect to testify or not testify as part of your case. Your election not to testify cannot be considered as an admission of your guilt. Depending on the potential penalty, you can have the case heard by a Judge (in District or Circuit Court) or by a Jury (Circuit Court). There must be a finding of one’s guilt before any penalty can be imposed, and unless there is a mandatory sentence involved, a Judge has discretion in the proper disposition for the charge. There are post-conviction rights which can involve modification of sentence and/or probation, a new trial, or appeal.
A criminal case can have other consequences. For traffic offenses, the Motor Vehicle Administration may have administrative penalties that apply, and certain criminal charges may impact a person’s employment due to licensing, security clearance or policy considerations. There can also be consequences for things related to the ability to be a school volunteer or participate in field trips or even family law matters related to access to children.
You should consult an attorney immediately after receiving a criminal charge or a traffic citation so that you fully understand your rights, the specific proceedings and the entire scope of the case and the potential consequences. A criminal case of any type should not be taken lightly and having legal advice allows you to make informed decisions and consider how best to defend yourself.