When a person is arrested and charged in Maryland, whether the detention is effected under an arrest warrant or not, he faces the prospect of a long drawn out and complicated judicial process. Understanding the basics of the criminal procedure used to handle adults accused of criminal violations can help you to protect your freedom and build a good defense in your favor or that of a loved one who has been detained by the police.
Arrests and booking
While a lot of criminals are apprehended on the basis of MD arrest warrants, it would incorrect to assume that the police always wait for an detention order to fall in their hands before apprehending an accused. In fact, how a person is taken into custody will largely depend on the specific circumstances of the case. For example, if the matter in question is a felony, given the seriousness of the crime and the commensurate sentence it carries, police will make arrests even without warrants.
In contrast, to detain a person accused of a misdemeanor, cops will need to be witnesses to the crime or will have to get an active warrant from the courts. In either case, once the accused is committed to custody, he is taken to the police station for booking. This is when he is photographed and finger printed.
Bail and release
If the offense is petty, the fine will usually be stated on the arrest warrant. Even when a judicial directive for arrest has not been issued in the matter and the offender has been detained while in the act of committing the crime, trivial matters will usually involve some form of monetary fine. As soon as this is paid, the accused will be released and he can await the trial from home.
As opposed to this, when it comes to felonies, the arrestee will have to spend time in jail till the court is ready to hear his bail petition. While a bail hearing is the right of all detainees, not all suspects are eligible to walk free after paying a bond. This liberty is only granted to those with no prior criminal record or history of disobeying court orders. The crime that a person is being accused of will also play a big role in determining if bail will be given.
Arraignment and a plea bargain
At the arraignment hearing the defendant is told of the charges that the state is invoking against him and he is asked to make a plea; it can be anything from not guilty to guilty and no contest. A plea bargain can also be worked out at this point. Through this process, the defendant accepts his guilt and negotiates for a lesser sentence in return for sparing the state the time and effort that would otherwise be required to go through the trial.
Those cases that do not get settled through plea arrangements go to trial. Preliminary hearings are held to prove that there is probable cause to hold the defendant guilty and initiate trial proceedings against him. Once again the defense is given an opportunity to work with a plea bargain. At this point, the defense attorneys will also consider if the arrest and the matter initiated are both within the bounds of the law.
There are two trial options available to the accused; a jury trial or to be tried before a judge. If the former is chosen, the case is heard by a panel of 12 jurors who have to unanimously find the defendant guilty.
Trial and sentencing
Depending on the crime, the case will be redirected to the appropriate court. For instance, misdemeanors, and minor felonies like thefts are tried in MD district courts where a judge hears the matter and delivers the verdict. In contrast, serious misdemeanors and felonies like homicide, assault, rape etc are heard by the circuit courts in Maryland, where a jury decides on the guilt of the accused. However, in both courts the judge handles the sentencing