Who does what in District Court?
A description of the role of staff and other agencies
When a person is arrested, a District Court commissioner, a judicial officer, will review the charging documents and set pre-trial release.
Clerks provide support for the courts both within and without the courtroom.
In District Court a judge hears or presides over cases.
For many people, commissioners are the first point of contact with the District Court of Maryland. Commissioners are judicial officers, appointed by the Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland. There are more than 240 District Court commissioners around the state, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Commissioners have two primary responsibilities:
• Reviewing Applications for Statement of Charges to determine whether probable cause exists to issue charging documents; and
• Conducting initial appearance hearings on arrested individuals to decide the conditions of pre-trial release.
If you believe that someone has committed a crime against you or a minor in your custody, you may visit a District Court commissioner and complete an “Application for Statement of Charges.” You will be required to provide a description of the person who committed the offense and a statement explaining what happened. The commissioner reviews the application to determine whether a crime has been committed and if there is reason to believe that the person you have accused committed the crime. If the commissioner determines that there is probable cause, a charging document is issued.
The commissioner will then determine whether to issue a summons for the person to appear in court or a warrant for the person’s arrest. If a summons is issued, the accused person will receive a copy of the charging document, which states what laws the person is charged with breaking and the penalties for each violation. A court date will be scheduled later.
If a warrant is issued, the document will be given to a law enforcement agency, which is responsible for finding and arresting the accused person. For individuals experiencing abuse, commissioners have the authority to issue an Interim Peace or Protective Order only when the courts are closed.Determining Pre-Trial Release
Upon arrest, the commissioner conducts an Initial Appearance hearing. At this hearing, the defendant is advised of the nature of the charges against them, the penalties should they be convicted, and their right to counsel. Commissioners determine whether the defendant should be released before trial or be required to post bail to secure their release.
Clerks support the work of the courts and are responsible for a wide variety of activities, including scheduling cases, maintaining case files, distributing forms, and responding to requests for information. If you have ever been involved with a case in the District Court, you’ve likely spent some time talking with a court clerk. For example, a court clerk can tell you when and where a particular trial is scheduled, provide the forms that you request, inform you of the fees required for various court actions, accept case filings and answer questions about the procedures of the court.
Clerks and legal advice
You may find that you have several options when filing your case. A clerk is not permitted to advise you on which option you should select. Maryland law prohibits anyone who is not licensed to practice law, including court clerks, from giving legal advice. This prohibition ensures that you are protected and that the judicial process is fair to both sides in a dispute. Should you need assistance in choosing how to proceed or in completing forms, you may wish to consider seeking the services of an attorney.
Judges must be members of the Maryland Bar; be at least 30 years old and reside in the county in which they sit. Most importantly, each must meet high standards of professionalism and personal integrity. Judges are selected by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
In District Court a judge hears your case and renders a decision. In many instances, the judge is the only person who has the authority to grant certain requests or motions in a case.
To ensure that both sides are treated fairly, the parties to a dispute are generally not permitted to meet with the judge privately to discuss a case. Any correspondence with the judge must be in writing.
Office of the Maryland Public Defender
• Maryland Office of the Public Defender's website
The Office of the Public Defender handles criminal cases carrying a possible jail sentence or a fine greater than $500.00. Eligibility for Public Defender services is determined by comparing your financial condition to the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For income eligible defendants the Public Defender Office is open to take applications Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except State Holidays.
You may apply at any OPD Office, not just the County where you have to go to court. You must apply at least ten (10) working days prior to your trial date.
Offices of the Maryland State's Attorneys
• Maryland State's Attorneys' website
The State's Attorney presents the state's case in traffic and criminal trials in District Court.
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.
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.