What Types of Cases are Resolved in Maryland's District Courts?
Summary: People typically don't think much about the court system until they find themselves on either side of a legal action. And even then, they might initially gloss over differences between the district and circuit courts, considering the terms to be roughly synonymous.
People typically don't think much about the court system until they find themselves on either side of a legal action.
And even then, they might initially gloss over differences between the district and circuit courts, considering the terms to be roughly synonymous.
The following seeks to break down the Maryland court system in layman's terms, focusing on the purpose of the district court.
The Maryland Court System in a Nutshell
Maryland has a four-level court system, with two trial and two appellate courts.
- The Appellate Courts
Maryland's two appellate courts are the Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in the state, and the Court of Special Appeals, which handles intermediate cases. The purpose of both appellate courts is to review the actions of the trial courts and decide whether their rulings have interpreted the law and legal precedent accurately.
- The Trial Courts
There are also two trial courts, the District Court and the Circuit Court. The purpose of the Circuit Court is to handle more serious cases, both criminal and civil. Circuit Courts also handle divorce and some domestic violence cases. Each county in the state of Maryland has a Circuit Court; there is also one for the City of Baltimore. This court handles jury trials as well as proceedings where only the judge presides over the case.
The District Court handles misdemeanor cases, and there are no jury trials; a case in the District Court involves only a judge, who hears witness testimony and makes a ruling. Like Circuit Courts, District Courts are located in each county and the City of Baltimore.
Maryland also has an Orphan's Court, which handles probate matters such as estates, wills, and some aspects of guardianship.
Cases Resolved in Maryland's District Court
The Maryland District Court is a lower trial court that came into being following a 1971 amendment to the Maryland Constitution. It is a statewide court, with 34 locations in 12 districts. The Court has limited jurisdiction over the following types of criminal and civil cases:
- Motor vehicle violations, such as disputes over traffic tickets and certain types of driving-under-the-influence cases
- Boating violations
- Domestic violence and peace order petitions, such as harassment, stalking, or the malicious destruction of property
- Landlord-tenant disputes, including eviction
- Small claims and other civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $30,000
- Replevin and Detinue cases — i.e., the recovery of detained or wrongfully taken property.
The District Court also hears bail and preliminary hearings for any crime charged in the state of Maryland.
Generally speaking, the main difference between cases tried in the Circuit Court and those tried in the District Court is the level of severity. If a civil case exceeds $30,000 in damages, the Circuit Court automatically holds jurisdiction over that case. Instances where the amount of damages is more than $5,000 but less than $30,000 may be heard in either the District or the Circuit Court; the two Courts would then have concurrent jurisdiction.
The type of criminal cases most often heard in the District Court are misdemeanors or infractions — i.e., cases where the judge cannot sentence an individual to more than one year in jail. The Court does, however, hear some felony cases as well.
If an individual is tried and convicted in the District Court, they are automatically entitled to an appeal in the Circuit Court. That means a person can face trial twice for the same offense in the state of Maryland. Likewise, if an individual could be tried in the District Court but is entitled to a jury trial, that defendant has the right to be tried in the Circuit Court instead.
The District Court is the where most people end up if they break the law or have experienced injustice.
If you have questions about Maryland’s court system, contact Lusk Law, LLC today.
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