The Maryland judiciary is made of several trial and appellate tribunals which are divided across four levels. Trial courts have the responsibility of considering the evidence presented before them and ruling in a criminal or civil matter based on facts and the laws of the state.
On the other hand, appellate courts only handle review petitions from lower tribunals. Thus, these courts never really hear a case from scratch but just consider the treatment of various case facts by the trial courts and if this was done in keeping with the statutes of MD.
The district courts: These are trial courts present at 34 locations divided across 12 judicial districts all over the state. At least one judge presides over the district court in every county and the city of Baltimore. Cases are not heard by jurors in these courts rather the verdict is given by the judge. District courts have the jurisdiction to hear both criminal and civil cases.
However, in terms of the latter only matters in which the disputed amount is not more than $5,000 will be handled by these tribunals. Apart from civil matters, district courts also have the powers to rule in cases of domestic violence, tenant and landlord disputes.
In terms of criminal jurisdiction, district courts can handle limited felonies and minor misdemeanors along with motor vehicle and boating violations. The circuit courts share jurisdiction with the district level tribunals in cases where the penalty amount is upward of $2500 and a sentence of one year or more applies.
Circuit courts: Also tribunals of general jurisdiction, circuit courts are higher up in the judicial hierarchy and they hear all of the major civil and criminal cases brought before the state. Some of the matters handled by these tribunals include divorce, juvenile cases, custody and serious crimes both felonies and misdemeanors.
In some circumstances, a circuit court may also hear a criminal case forwarded from the district tribunals because the defendant requested that his case be heard by a jury. All across MD, there are 24 circuit courts, one in each county and the city of Baltimore.
These are divided into two levels; the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
The Court of Special Appeals: This is an intermediate appellate tribunal that was created to review the judgment of the circuit and the orphan’s court. It considers any judgment or decree that is reviewable. Three judges sit en banc to decide on a matter and total of 13 justices serve the Court of Special Appeals.
The Maryland of Court of Appeals: The Ultimate tribunal for appeals in the state, this is the Supreme Court of Maryland and its highest judicial entity. The court hears cases by way of certiorari; this means that the tribunal has discretionary powers to choose the matters that are brought before it.
Although most cases that are heard by the Court of Appeals come from the intermediate appellate courts, by law, matters involving capital punishment, legislative redistrictingand those pertaining to a specific law or the removal of a state official are heard directly by the apex court. The Court of Appeals is served by 6 justices and one Chief Justice; arguments are heard by all seven judges.
Apart from the trial and appellate courts, other judicial entities have also been included in the legal makeup of the state. These include the orphan’s court which was designed to handle matters pertaining to wills, probate, estates and minors.
The office of Administrative Hearings is another judicial entity that does not fall in the bracket of trial or appellate courts. It handles matters pertaining to contested administrative laws.