Save all documents concerning the charges.
This includes any “charging document” whether it is called a citation, a summons, an arrest warrant, or statement of charges. Some of these are also in a narrative form listing the reasons a police officer filed the charges.
Because criminal and traffic charges are based on statutes any missing element required by law may give you a defense in court. Both police officers and court personnel make errors. You will not be found guilty if you are not, in fact, guilty of the charges as alleged.
2. Read documents listing conditions of your release and any restrictions on your conduct carefully
If you have been arrested in Montgomery County, you may have been required to meet with a separate agency called “PTSU,” on the first weekday after the arrest. Failure to report may mean that your bond is revoked and must sit in jail before trial.
In almost any county of Maryland, you may have been given conditions on your release. For example, if the charge was assaulting a family member you may be prohibited from returning to your own home. If you were charged with theft at a retail store, you may be prohibited from returning to the entire mall where it happened. You must know, and obey, any restrictions until they are modified by a court order. Ask us how to do that.
3. Pay special attention to any notices requiring you to appear in court for a preliminary inquiry, preliminary hearing, or trial.
Self-explanatory – you should contact a lawyer about your criminal or misdemeanor case before any court appearance is required. Your lawyer needs to know the date and location of scheduled dates in your case. He or she can also explain what you must or should do before each stage of your case. And time is precious. Don’t wait until the last minute because deadlines may be required. Understanding and preparing is necessary to preserve your rights and protects your liberty.
4. Contact your attorney promptly and be on time for all appointments.
This law firm believes each case and each client is different. Important deadlines can occur within as little as seven days after you have been charged. A simple speeding charge or a seatbelt violation can get you suspended if you do nothing in the first 30 days, and those kinds of charges will not be set for trial automatically. Contacting an attorney only after a drug charge or a DUI is set for trial may mean you have wasted weeks or months when you should have been getting education or treatment to mitigate any sentence. Fear of the expense for attorney fees is foolish – seeing an attorney quickly can make it possible to spread payments over time and complete fees before trial. We do not charge you for finding out what a case will cost!
And see the next segment: if you contact an attorney promptly, you can present a fresh recollection of the facts and answer your attorney’s questions.
5. Record the facts of your case promptly while your memory is fresh. “The devil is in the details.”
Even a minor criminal case may require 60-90 days before you go to trial. A DUI case, four to six months. A serious felony, 9 to 15 months. All court systems face delays and you may be facing a postponement of your first trial date if either you or the prosecutor is not prepared. Meanwhile, the facts of your case are critically important for your attorney to know in great detail. Consider organizing and writing a “script” of everything you, the police, or any witnesses said about the events.
6. Obtain and organize important records concerning your background
In traffic cases, your driving record may be the single most important document determining how the case comes out. Maryland uses a “point system” that creates penalties or possible license suspensions at different levels. Ask for a “complete” driving record which is obtainable from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration on its website for Maryland drivers only. For alcohol and other serious offenses, it is also important to obtain a “PBJ” driving record that lists certain administrative penalties for alcohol offenses and any traffic charge where you have obtained “probation before judgment.” A visit to an MVA office is required to obtain a PBJ record and this will only be issued to you, the driver.
In all cases, information about your and education, employment history, family and marital status, and any criminal or traffic charges and arrests are important. If you have been arrested previously, any court or probation documents, and treatment records should be collected. Consider updating or printing your current resume.
7. After you have set an appointment, consider reading general court procedures in Maryland cases
You may want to make a list of questions that you have about procedures that will apply to your individual case. Most criminal charges in Maryland start in the District Court of Maryland and the vast majority of them are defined by statutes. Most District Court charges are misdemeanors, considered less serious in nature than felonies. An exception is the crime of theft, which can be tried in the District Court regardless of amount.
Many drug cases and most violent crimes are defined as felonies, in which the District Court may only grant a “preliminary hearing” to decide whether there is “probable cause” that the crimes occurred and the defendant committed them. If so, the charges are referred to the Circuit Court for trial.
Other felonies may be brought by “indictment” before or after District Court charges were originally placed.
A defendant facing trial in the District Court may ask for trial in the Circuit Court by praying [that is, requesting] a jury trial if the possible jail time of at least one charge is more than 90 days. Lesser crimes, for example, trespassing or disorderly conduct may only be punishable by 60 days in jail. Such charges must be tried in District Court before a single judge, but may appeal a guilty finding to the Circuit Court for a completely new trial as though the District Court trial never happened.
District Court charges must be written but there are several formats that are used. A citation is a written charge similar to a traffic ticket and written by a police officer and then handed to a defendant. Some other charges are placed by a summons, an arrest warrant, or a “statement of charges,” and many of these list statutes charged and the penalties possible on conviction.
More serious charges are generated by a process in which a police officer commonly files an “application for statement of charges” for “statement of probable cause.” The police officer’s application must be under oath and demonstrate actual facts that convince a court official called a “Commissioner” that these facts probably amount to the stated crime.
People who have been arrested under this process are typically required to submit to identification procedures like fingerprinting and photographing. Once processed, a commissioner then reviews the eligibility of the arrestee for release prior to trial. Maryland is fairly liberal on permitting “personal recognizance” without requiring a bail bond or financial security before release.
If you have been arrested but not yet processed by the Commissioner, you have the right to an attorney present during the process permitting your release. If you have been held on a high money bond, or the Commissioner imposed conditions of release that affect your rights – an example would be a requirement that you not return to your own home if you are charged with assaulting a family member – our office can file a written request called a “motion to modify the conditions of bond” or have you released without such conditions.
If you have already been released it is critical that you contact our office to review the circumstances and your background as soon as possible. We also recommend that you write out your own version of the actual facts of the events leading to your being charged. A trial may take many weeks or even months before you are required to testify about what really happened. Even if you are guilty the details you record promptly may demonstrate that there are missing elements that the State must prove to find you guilty. If the State fails to prove even one essential element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt you may be acquitted without testifying yourself.