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 279 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;
• Conducting initial appearance hearings on arrested individuals to decide the conditions of pre-trial release; and
•Determining eligibility of applicants for Office of the Public Defender services.
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.
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.
Determining Public Defender Eligibility
If you cannot afford a lawyer, a District Court Commissioner will determine whether you qualify to be represented by the Office of the Public Defender for District Court or Circuit Court criminal cases that carry a penalty of incarceration. Applications are accepted at any District Court Commissioner's Office during operating hours.
You will be interviewed by a District Court Commissioner, complete a written application, and will be asked to provide information about your income, expenses, and assets.
Complete the District Court Commissioner Application for Representation by Office of Public Defender (Form DC-099).
Bring the following papers, along with the DC-099 form, to apply:
- Court charging documents/traffic tickets. (Statement of Charges/all documents issued to you by the Court.)
- Trial date notices from the Court. (You may apply even if you haven't received your trial date yet.)
- If you are employed: written proof of salary, pay stubs, or other written verification of income for the last two (2) pay periods.
- If you are unemployed: proof of public assistance, medical assistance, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or other assistance you are receiving.
If you require further information about qualifying for a Public Defender, call 1-833-453-9799.
How to Apply for a Public Defender
IMPORTANT-If the District Court Commissioner determines that you are eligible to be represented by the Public Defender, you must still go to the Office of the Public Defender, with your written determination of eligibility to be interviewed. Failure to do so will mean that you will not be represented by the Public Defender at trial.
Contact information for District Court Commissioner's Offices can be found at: www.mdcourts.gov/district/directories/commissionermap.html
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 provides legal representation to eligible individuals who cannot afford to hire a private attorney in criminal cases carrying a possible jail sentence or a fine greater than $500.00.
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.