What You Need to Know About Criminal Law in Maryland
Learn what you should do now

If you are charged with a crime in Maryland, you do need a lawyer. But you also need to know your rights, and what to do now. You probably have a lot of questions – and a lot of anxiety. Get some answers now!

 

We wrote this guide so you can easily discover the answers to your legal questions. You should always be informed, and know your options, before you make decisions. You can learn a lot in just 15 minutes. Then contact us if you have any questions, or want a free consultation.

 

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If you are facing criminal charges, things you do right now will affect your legal case later. You should be informed and know your options before you make decisions. Before you make a big decision like hiring an attorney, you should read this guide. Learn what a lawyer can do for you, and what your options are.

However, if you have any serious legal issue, you really need personal advice from an attorney. Of course, we hope you will choose us. But this guide is just as valuable if you do not. This guide contains general information about Maryland law. Simply reading it does not turn you into a lawyer (thank goodness!) and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Good legal advice depends on understanding the unique facts of your personal situation. You can only get that in a consultation. That is the best advice we can ever give you.

We would like to give you that consultation. Contact us today.

The whole process begins with a stop or an arrest by the police. A stop is not as formal as an arrest. A police officer will stop you to ask questions. They cannot stop you unless they have a reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred. What is a valid “reasonable articulable suspicion”? There are a million cases dealing with that question, and the answer is not always black and white. It is important to discuss the specific facts of your case with a lawyer to make that determination.

However, keep in mind that you always have the right to remain silent, even if you are just stopped and questioned. You do not have to answer any questions from the police at any time. In fact, everyone should know their constitutional rights regarding criminal law.

If you are in a vehicle, the police officer may ask to search it. The police cannot search your vehicle unless they have “probable cause”, or you consent. They often seek your consent because they do not quite have “probable cause.”

You should never give your consent to a search of yourself or your vehicle. They may end up searching anyway later, but by refusing to consent your lawyer can now challenge the probable cause the police officer asserted as the justification to search. If you give your consent, these arguments are generally considered waived and your lawyer will have much less to challenge in court.

“Probable cause” is a more serious standard than “reasonable articulable suspicion”, and successfully challenging that issue could result in evidence being suppressed or a case being dismissed. Let your lawyer handle that question, because it is vital to your defense. Generally, a police officer can arrest you if they have probable cause to believe you committed a crime, or if there is a warrant out for your arrest. If a stop and search leads to an arrest, you should not resist it. Resisting arrest is a crime itself. The best advice if you are arrested is to be calm, be silent, and demand a lawyer before they ask you any questions.

After being arrested, the officer will “book” you. This is the process where they take your fingerprints, get your mug shot, do a background check, and ask you questions. Remember, you have the right to remain silent and the right to demand an attorney. You do not have to answer questions. Many otherwise defensible cases result in convictions due to incriminating statements made during the arrest and booking phase. No matter what the police say, they are not going to let you out of jail because you answered all of their questions! Just be calm, be silent, and let your lawyer deal with things later. That is the best thing you can do for your case.

The decision to charge often comes from the prosecutor, not the police. The victim does not get to charge you, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t get to drop the charges either. The prosecutor will often take into account the wishes of the victim, but they do not have to. You are in the hands of the state after being arrested. They cannot hold you indefinitely, however. You must be charged with a crime within a certain limited amount of time or they must release you.

This is where the Judge will formally read your charges and inform you of your rights. You should have asserted your right to a lawyer before now. If not, do so at this time. If you are asked how to plea, and you do not have an attorney, you should always say “not guilty”. You can always change your mind later.

The Judge will decide on whether or not you should be released, and if so, how much your bail should be. Bail is the amount of money you, or someone else, must post with the court so they can be sure you will reappear. If you do not, your bail will be forfeit, and the state gets it. If bail is set, someone must post it for you or hire a bail bondsman to do so. If you hire a bail bondsman, and you run off, the bondsman loses the bail money to the court. If that happens, they send someone after you – a bounty hunter. Plus, there will be a warrant out for your arrest. Sometimes you will be released on your own “recognizance”, which just means there is no bail. But you are now in the system and will have to appear for further proceedings.

 

Discovery is a pre-trial process where the prosecutor must give certain information to your attorney. Your attorney gets to see all the evidence against you before trial. This is not always a straightforward process, and it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to conduct discovery properly.

This is the best reason to remain silent, not give your consent to a search, and demand an attorney if you are arrested. Your attorney can make any number of pre-trial motions, such as asking the court to exclude certain evidence from trial if it was gained in an illegal or impermissible manner. It is far more difficult to suppress evidence if you spoke voluntarily or gave consent to a search.

Frankly, it is hard to suppress evidence without an experienced criminal defense attorney to aggressively litigate the legal issues. There are thousands of statutes, cases, rules and exceptions to the rules that apply to criminal pre-trial issues. State’s Attorneys are experts in this area, and you need one too! This is not a task you want to handle alone.

 

This is a fancy word for negotiations. Your attorney and the prosecutor will negotiate over what charges will stick, which will be thrown out, and usually the terms of your sentencing. Your attorney will get the best deal for you that he or she can. If you have an attorney during the pre-trial discovery and motions stage, this can often increase your leverage and help you negotiate a better outcome.

If the prosecutor and your attorney cannot reach an agreement on a plea bargain, your case will go to trial. Trial is where the government must put on their evidence that you committed a crime, including producing witnesses live in court to testify. You do not have to testify. You do not have to put on any evidence whatsoever, and are presumed to be innocent. The government must prove its case, and it must prove it to the Judge or Jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are found guilty, or if you enter a plea of guilty based on a plea bargain, you will then be sentenced by the court. If there is not a binding agreement, the Judge will decide on the proper punishment. This can be anything from probation to active jail time. There are guidelines that apply and give judges a general range of punishment options.

Your attorney can do a lot for you at sentencing, including making sure all the procedures are followed, arguing for lesser guidelines and advocating for circumstances which would allow the Judge to sentence you to less than that called for in the guidelines. Also, an attorney can help you before sentencing by telling you what actions you can take to make the Judge more likely to be lenient on you. For instance, if you are charged with drunk driving and take a class or go to rehab, the Judge may take that into consideration when sentencing you. This is where an experienced local attorney is especially helpful. Knowledge of the local judges and county court systems is critical at this stage.

 

This is an overview of the criminal process, with some tips on how best to handle things at each stage. But the first and most important piece of advice is this – get an attorney anytime a criminal charge is made against you. It is no joke. You could lose your rights, your money, and your freedom.

Our constitution provides every person certain basic rights to protect themselves from the power of the government. They are so important, but do you know what they are? Do you know how to use them properly? This is a good overview of the rights that apply to anyone accused of a crime in Maryland. We will explain each right, and give you some good advice on how best to assert it if you are charged with a crime. You should know this information before any contact with police officers if you suspect you may be charged with a crime and need a criminal lawyer.

We provide a free consultation to anyone charged with a crime.  You should take advantage of that free consultation immediately if you are charged with a crime. Having a criminal defense attorney is so important to successfully getting through the criminal process that the United States Constitution makes it mandatory for the government to provide you one if you cannot afford one yourself.

 

This applies if you are stopped by the police, arrested, and it even applies at trial. You cannot be forced to answer questions or testify. Your silence cannot be used against you. Nobody is allowed to presume you are guilty just because you remain silent. This is one of the most valuable rights that people throw away routinely when they are arrested. They think the police will change their mind if they talk, or they think they can tell a lie, or a half truth, to get out of a situation. Unlike television, this rarely works. Remember that the police are working for the State, not for you. They are not your friend, and they will use anything you say against you. The best thing you can do is remain silent until you have consulted an attorney, who can advise you on what you should say – if anything.

You have the right to an attorney at trial, and during all proceedings leading up to trial. Criminal law is one area you should never handle yourself. The right to an attorney is so important it is guaranteed to you by the United States Constitution. The government will have to provide a lawyer for you if you cannot afford one. This should tell you how important it is that you have a lawyer if charged with a crime. Get one as soon as possible in the process. 

 

The state must prove your guilt. You do not have to prove your innocence. You are always presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial, or until you plea guilty in court. The state also has a high burden to meet in proving your guilt. They must do so beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

If the charges against you carry more than a statutory maximum of 90 days, you have the right to a jury trial. Once a jury trial is “prayed”, a jury of 12 will have to unanimously agree on your guilty or innocence. This means the case against you must make sense to 12 ordinary citizens who got called for jury duty the day of your trial. You can also choose to have your guilt or innocence decided by a Judge alone, without a jury. Sometimes that may be smart, but generally a jury is better for the defense. Your lawyer can help decide that based on the circumstances of the crime you have been charged with and the merits of any legal arguments.

 

You have the right to a trial, and to challenge any evidence the state puts forward against you. This includes challenging the manner in which evidence was gathered. The police must gather evidence legally. There is a lot of case law out there on what police can and cannot do when gathering evidence. You have the right to personally confront witnesses and question them on the witness stand. Of course, you should do this through an attorney.

 

Although you do not have to testify or present evidence at trial, you do have the right. You may even compel witnesses to be there for your defense by subpoena. The court will force them to appear and answer questions asked by your lawyer. Additionally, the prosecutor is always forced to give your attorney evidence that may tend to show you did not commit the crime. This is called exculpatory evidence and you can get a new trial if they fail to turn it over to your attorney and you are convicted.

You have several post-trial rights, including a right to an appeal. This can be different depending on if your case is in District or Circuit court. An appeal can involve going to a higher court, or even putting together a panel of Judges from the same court who are different than the one who presided at your trial. You can have legal errors reviewed. You can ask for certain evidence to be thrown out. You can even ask for your sentence to be reduced. There are a lot of things which can be challenged. Your attorney can advise you what to appeal based on the current case law.

 

To re-emphasize one point in this article – you have the right to an attorney. Criminal law is serious business and nobody should try to handle it without an attorney. We provide free consultations to anyone accused of a crime, or anyone who wants a consultation on behalf of someone accused of a crime.

 

Explore Your Options Today

Contact us today for a consultation so you can explore your options and get good advice. We can do consultations in person or by phone. You can even send us an email (see the contact us page for instructions). We will make it convenient for you. You should always know what your options are before you make any major decisions about a legal issue. 

 

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