A CLOSE LOOK AT MARYLAND CRIMINAL CHARGES
Facing Maryland Criminal Charges in the Court System
In most cases, when someone alleges that you committed a crime, it will lead to filing something called an “incident of abuse,” which will often lead to police investigating the allegations. If the police determine that they have “probable cause” that the alleged offense occurred, they will seek an arrest warrant.
To execute the warrant, a prosecutor and a judge must sign off on the warrant and agree that there is probable cause for the offense. Probable cause is one of the lowest standards in the law and is equivalent to a “reason to believe” the offense occurred.
Now, getting arrested does not mean that you will automatically be convicted. For the State to convict you of a criminal offense, the government must prove the elements of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest standard of proof under the law.
A Maryland criminal attorney can help you fight these charges.
Is the Alleged Crime a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Based on Maryland law, criminal offenses can be designated misdemeanor or felony offenses. But, unlike some other states, Maryland doesn’t differentiate misdemeanor and felony crimes based on the penalties they carry.
Instead of a typical maximum misdemeanor penalty of a year in the county jail, a misdemeanor criminal conviction can carry a longer jail sentence than a felony conviction. Although felony charges generally carry higher fines and harsh prison penalties, misdemeanor crimes may also carry fines of up to $5,000 and prison sentences of up to 10 years. Aggravating factors can also elevate a misdemeanor crime to a felony.
Criminal convictions can result in having a criminal record that can follow you for years. Even a misdemeanor conviction can negatively impact your ability to get a job or housing. That’s why ensuring your case doesn’t end up with a conviction can be crucial.
Getting Arrested in Maryland
Once a warrant is approved, your local police department will execute the warrant and take you into custody. In other cases, like a DUI, the officers can make an arrest without a warrant if the crime occurs in the officer’s presence. Take a DUI again as an example. A DUI usually starts with a traffic stop where the police officer observes the driver violating some law or driving regulation.
Once the officer observes the driver to give them a ticket, they may start to suspect the driver is under the influence based on their observations. But in both instances, the impairment and the driving infraction occur in the officer’s presence, which alleviates their need to obtain a warrant for the arrest. However, when this occurs, drivers can contact their DUI attorneys.
Once arrested, the police will book and process the person, and they will go before a Commissioner to determine bail or conditions of release. After the initial pretrial hearing, the case gets forwarded to the Office of State’s Attorney for prosecution. Usually, during the prosecution of any offense, the defendant will only have two choices: accept a plea bargain negotiated by a lawyer or take the case to trial. In both choices, the Maryland District Court System will decide the outcome.
What Is a Plea Bargain and a Diversion Program for a Maryland Criminal Charge?
A plea bargain typically involves the State reducing or dropping some charges in exchange for the defendant waiving their constitutional rights. These rights include, among other things, the right to a trial, the right to confront witnesses, the right to testify (or not testify), the right to compel exculpatory witnesses to testify on your behalf, and the right to an appeal.
However, in some instances, a third option is available, called a diversion. In some cases, Maryland has several different types of diversion options available. One is called putting the case on a “stet docket.” That means that the prosecution decides not to go forward, and the case goes inactive if the defendant completes certain conditions like community service or takes certain classes. In that case, the defendant does not get rearrested.
Another option at sentencing is where a judge may put someone in Maryland on Probation before Judgment (often called a “PBJ”). In cases where the defendant gets a PBJ, the defendant must complete probation before judgment (or conviction is entered). If the defendant completes probation successfully, the conviction never gets entered, and the case is often expunged.
Going to Trial in Maryland
If the Maryland criminal defense lawyer cannot work out a plea bargain or get some diversion for the client, then the case goes to trial. The court determines whether there is enough evidence for a conviction and, if so, what sentence should be imposed.
In Maryland, charges with a maximum penalty of less than 90 days are not entitled to a trial by a jury. In those cases, the defendant must have a trial where the judge will determine whether the State proves its case beyond reasonable doubt.
In addition, if a defendant makes a jury demand, that will result in the case that may have started in District Court getting moved to Circuit Court. At a trial, the State must prove every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt. That means they must put witnesses on the stand who will testify under oath to what they observed. The defense can cross-examine the government’s witnesses and confront any allegations made.
In addition, the defense can subpoena or compel witnesses who may come forward and testify favorably for the defendant.
Jury and Bench Trial: Who Decides on Maryland Criminal Charges
In a jury trial, the judge will instruct jurors (usually 12 members of the community) on the law regarding the offense the State has charged. It’s up to the jury to decide what the facts of the case are. The jury assesses the credibility of the witnesses and decides who they believe and what they think happened. Not only must they decide what facts they believe, but they must believe them beyond a reasonable doubt if the facts support a conviction.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a term we all hear on television but often do not think about what it means. It means the State’s evidence must be so convincing that we have no reason to doubt it’s true. That means the jurors could think it’s likely the defendant committed the offense, but if they have a doubt (not just any doubt but a doubt based on reason), they must acquit the defendant to apply the law as instructed properly.
In a bench trial, however, the judge makes factual findings and applies those facts to the law. That means the judge must assess the credibility of the witnesses and decide which version of facts they believe occurred. If the judge properly applies the standard beyond a reasonable doubt, they must only convict if that high standard is met.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the burden of proof never shifts to the defendant. It always remains on the State to prove the offense. While many defendants put on a legal defense, they are not legally required to do it.
How Can a Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney Help?
Criminal charges in Maryland are severe and can have long-lasting consequences. It’s essential to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who can navigate the complicated legal system and protect your rights. Here are some ways a lawyer can help with your criminal case:
- Advice and Guidance: A criminal defense attorney can advise you on what to say how to behave, and make sure your rights are protected during questioning or interrogation.
- Case Review: An experienced attorney will review the evidence against you, identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and develop a strong defense strategy.
- Plea Bargaining: If you decide to accept a plea bargain, a lawyer can negotiate on your behalf for the best possible outcome.
- Trial Representation: If your case goes to trial, a criminal defense attorney will represent you and fight for your innocence. They will cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and argue on your behalf.
- Sentencing Guidance: If you are convicted of a crime, your attorney can help mitigate the consequences by advocating for a lenient sentence or alternative options such as probation or diversion programs.
Contact a Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If arrested for an offense in Maryland, the bottom line is you need a lawyer. Whether it’s a negotiated plea bargain, diversion agreement, or going to trial, having a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney is necessary to protect your rights. The criminal justice system is complex, and the consequences of a conviction or guilty plea can be severe.
The police are not always right in making arrests. Moreover, sometimes, they do not have enough evidence to convict. A prosecutor must prove each element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt if the defendant goes to trial. Otherwise, the person will suffer no exposure to punishment by exercising their constitutional right to a trial.
A competent lawyer can hold the State to that burden and ensure that each offense element is proven before any conviction occurs. In doing so, a Maryland criminal defense attorney can ensure that the evidence presented at trial is legally obtained and admissible in court. They can also cross-examine any witnesses and present a strong defense on behalf of the defendant.