The following information provides a brief overview of criminal procedure in Maryland. It is not an exhaustive treatise on Maryland Criminal Procedure. Five hundred page books have been written on this topic. Contact me for a free consultation if you would like a more detailed understanding of how your case fits into this process. Each case is different.
1: The beginning of a criminal case…
INITIAL STOP BY THE POLICE: (Generally the first contact for most individuals) An “Officer of the law” may stop or detain you for questioning without “arresting you.” At this juncture you can certainly exercise your (5th Amendment) fifth amendment right to remain silent; however, recent Court cases suggest that at a minimum you need to provide your name when stopped.
By remaining silent I am not suggesting that you ought to “stonewall” the Officer and rebuke he or her with nasty expressions but rather if this is a routine stop it may be in your interest to remain polite and respond with carefully chosen brief answers.
THE ARREST: For you to be arrested, a police officer must have a reasonable belief that a crime was committed and that you committed that crime or were involved in it. At this stage of the criminal process you have an absolute right to remain silent and you have a right to an attorney. I suggest you utilize both of these rights at this time. If at any point the police officer begins to question you after you were placed in custody it is advisable to ask for an attorney and remain silent. The questioning should cease at that point.
SEARCH WARRANTS: A search warrant is an “order” issued by a Judge authorizing a police agency to search your person, home, or other effects in order to obtain evidence of criminal activity. In order for a search warrant to be issued in Maryland, Probable Cause must exist. For probable cause to exist an Officer hoping to receive a signed warrant from a judge must show that “it is more likely than not that the specific items to be searched are connected with criminal activities and that those items will be found in the place to be searched.”
WARRANTLESS SEARCHES IN THE STATE OF MARYLAND: in certain scenarios a “search warrant” is not needed in order to effectuate a search. Here are some of those scenarios:
SEARCH WHILE BEING ARRESTED: A Maryland police officer is allowed to search your “person” while in the process of making a valid arrest.
AUTOMOBILE SEARCHES: If you’ve been arrested while in a vehicle, a Maryland Officer may search the inside of your car, with certain limitations.
EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES: This is somewhat of a “catch all” exception to the warrantless search rule. Police may make a warrantless search if exigent circumstances such as when they face a risk of harm to themselves, when evidence may be immediately destroyed, and if they are in hot pursuit of a felon. The list I have just noted is not exhaustive
CONSENT: Police Officers do not need a warrant if you have consented to a search of your person or your effects. (Here, I note that you are not required to provide an officer with Consent)
2: After the arrest…
INITIAL APPEARANCE BEFORE A JUDICIAL OFFICER: After your arrest, a District Court Commissioner, or a Judicial Officer, will review with you your charging documents and set the terms of your pre-trial release.
RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY: In Maryland, every individual charged with a crime has a right to an attorney. Under certain circumstances, and if you cannot afford an attorney, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender will provide you with an attorney. I urge you to retain an attorney as soon as possible after being arrested. In fact, it should be your FIRST call after being arrested in Maryland. A delay in hiring attorney can jeopardize your freedom and some Judges are unlikely to consistently provide trial postponements so that you can find a lawyer.
TRIAL: In Maryland District courts you are entitled only to a “bench trial” before a judge. In the Circuit court you are entitled to either a “Judge” trial or in most instances, a “Jury” trial. Deciding whether to request a bench or jury trial is a decision that can only be made on a case by case basis.
At trial you will have the chance to present any and all factual and legal defenses relevant to your case. A qualified Maryland attorney can help you present your defense many times without requiring you testify.
PLEA BARGAINING: The majority of criminal cases in the Maryland court system are disposed of by way of plea bargaining. However, the decision to enter into a plea agreement should not be taken lightly. No discussion of a plea agreement should occur until both the lawyer and client have a full understanding of all factors at play in the case at hand. Below is a brief list of factors you should be aware of before “taking a plea.”
– a strong familiarity with the State’s version of the facts. (Statement of charges)
– an understanding of how YOU THE CLIENT disagree with the prosecutor’s version of the facts and how you will convey that evidence in a meaningful way.
– a familiarity with the “attitude” of the witnesses towards the case. Will they show?
– previous criminal record issues.
– suppression of evidence issues. i.e. – Did the police violate your fourth (4th) amendment rights?
– Temperament of the Judges in your jurisdiction.