My Loved One Has Just Been Arrested. What Happens Now?
The Court Commissioner
If the police arrest your loved one, that sets the criminal justice system into motion. In Maryland, if the police make an arrest, they take the arrested person before a District Court commissioner within 24 hours. The proceeding before the commissioner is called an initial appearance. A court commissioner is a judicial officer but not a judge. When the police bring the arrestee to the commissioner, the commissioner performs certain tasks. The first task is to listen to the evidence presented by the arresting officer to determine whether the facts support the arrest that was made. This requires sufficient facts to believe that the arrestee committed a crime. If not, the arrestee must be released. If there is probable cause, the commissioner performs certain other tasks.
The next task for the commissioner is to make a pre-trial release determination. The arrestee is entitled to counsel (at State’s expense, if unable to afford counsel) during the bail determination hearing. About half of all arrestees are released on their own recognizance, meaning they are released on their promise to (1) attend any proceeding, as required; and (2) cause no harm to persons of property in the meantime. The other half of arrestees are usually released on bail, meaning posting cash or property to ensure their appearance, as required. A small percentage of arrestees are not released pending trial. If, for whatever reason, the arrestee remains incarcerated 24 hours after arrest (denied bail or unable to make bail), there is an automatic bail review hearing before a District Court judge. If the arrestee remains incarcerated, the arrestee may seek habeas corpus relief (“let my body go”), which is rarely granted.
The Preliminary Hearing
If the arrestee has been arrested for a felony that is not within the jurisdiction of the District Court, the arrestee is entitled to a preliminary hearing, in District Court, before a District Court judge, if requested within ten days after the initial appearance. This usually means arrested for a felony other than a theft-related felony. If the arrestee is arrested for a felony not within the jurisdiction of the District Court, and requests a preliminary hearing within ten days, a preliminary hearing is scheduled before a judge of the District Court within 30 days. The arrestee is entitled to counsel (at State’s expense, if unable to afford counsel) during the preliminary hearing.
In a preliminary hearing, the State puts on a short version of its case. The arrestee’s counsel may cross-examine any State’s witness, but the defense may not put on a case. The District Court judge must view all of the evidence in a light most favorable to the State and decide whether there is sufficient evidence to require the Defendant to stand trial and defend against the charges. If the District Court judge finds that there is probable cause to require the Defendant to stand trial for committing a felony, the State may file a criminal information charging document within 30 days or the State may file an indictment against the Defendant at any time.
Ready for Trial
If the Defendant is charged with one or more misdemeanors, the case is supposed to be tried in District Court and tried within two months. If any one count is a felony, the case will most likely be tried in Circuit Court, generally much longer than two months.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you’re asking, Do I need to get a lawyer for a criminal case, the answer is almost certainly yes.
About Warnken, LLC
Warnken, LLC focuses on law enforcement representation, workers’ compensation and personal injury, while still handling select criminal cases and appeals. The firm was started in the early ‘90’s by husband and wife attorney team Byron and Bonnie Warnken. Byron L. Warnken is a full-time professor of criminal law and procedure at University of Baltimore School of Law and the author of the three-volume treatise, Maryland Criminal Procedure. Bonnie was and is a registered nurse. Associates Rebecca Smith, Matt McKenzie, and Byron B. Warnken all handle litigation.