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 need a lawyer. But you also need to know your rights, and you need to know what to do now

 

We wrote this Free Legal Consumer Guide so you can easily discover the answers to your legal questions. You should be informed, and know your options, before you make decisions. Read this guide, then call us for a free consultation.

 

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Being charged with a crime in Maryland starts a complex legal process that will crush you if you do not get help. Anyone charged with a crime needs an attorney. If you need a criminal defense attorney, contact us to set up a free consultation.

However, FIRST you should also get some idea of the process you face, and the possible consequences. We wrote the Free Legal Consumer Guide on criminal law so you can discover the answers to your legal questions today. 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. 

Our Free Legal Consumer Guide will explain what you need to know now. This is really two guides in one. The first section explains the criminal law process, and the second one explains what your rights are if you are charged with a crime in Maryland. But this article can only provide general advice. The best answers depend on the type of crime you were charged with, the circumstances surrounding it, the county you are in, etc.  Only a criminal law attorney who understands the criminal law process, and knows how to make it work, can really tell you what to expect in your particular case.  This is one area of the law you do not handle on your own. 

We provide a free consultation with a criminal law attorney to anyone charged with a crime. You should take advantage of that free consultation immediately. Call us, or another experienced criminal law attorney, sooner rather than later. Here are things you can expect to happen, and what each step in the process means to you.

Our Best Advice – This guide contains general information about Maryland law. Simply reading it does not create an attorney-client relationship, and does not turn you into a lawyer (thank goodness!). If you have a serious legal issue, you should get personal advice from an attorney who understands the unique facts of your situation. That is the best advice we can ever give you.

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 belief you violated the law. What is a valid “reasonable belief”? There are a million cases answering that question and I can never give you good general guidelines. Let your lawyer handle that question later.

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 may seek your consent because they do not quite have “probable cause.” You do not have to give your consent to a search of your car.They may search your car later, but your lawyer can then challenge the probable cause the police officer asserted as a reason to search the car. If you give your consent, the police do not need any other reason to search your car, and your lawyer will have much less to challenge in court.

“Probable cause” is more serious than “reasonable belief”, but there are a million cases explaining it too and I could never give you a good guideline. Plus you cannot challenge a police officer’s assertion of probable cause until later, in court. Again, let your lawyer handle that question later. 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 lead 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. They are not going to let you out of jail even if you answer all their questions. Just be calm, be silent, and let your lawyer deal with things later. That is the best you can do.

The charge 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 or Magistrate 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 probably say “not guilty.”

The Magistrate 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 well before trial. There are no secret, last minute witnesses allowed.

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. They usually ask the Court to exclude certain evidence from trial if it was gained in an illegal or impermissible manner. It is hard to suppress evidence if you spoke voluntarily or gave consent to a search.

Frankly, it is hard to suppress evidence at all. There are so many rules and exceptions to the rules, that the evidence against you usually gets in at trial. Do not be swayed by unrealistic movies and television shows that make it look like everyone gets off on technicalities. Hollywood has really done an awful job of accurately showing our justice system – both the criminal justice system and the civil side too.

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 be trying to get the best deal for you that he or she can. If the two sides reach an agreement, you will usually have to plea guilty to one or more of the charges to get the deal which has been reached. This involves going to court, answering some questions from the Judge, and telling the court on the record that you are guilty to the charge agreed upon by your attorney and the prosecutor.

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

If you are found guilty, or if you enter a plea of guilty based on a plea bargain, you will be sentenced by the Court. 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 the Judge 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 arguing 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 the 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.

I have tried to give you a good overview of the criminal process, with some tips on how best to handle things at each stage. But I must repeat my first and most important advice here: get an attorney anytime a criminal charge is made against you. It is no joke, and 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 law attorney is so important to successfully getting through the criminal process, 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 innocent just because you remain silent. This is one of the most valuable rights that people throw away routinely if 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, and get away with it. Unlike television, this rarely works. 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 never should 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. Sometimes having a lawyer appointed for you means the Public Defender will do it. Sometimes, a local attorney will do it if appointed by the Court. But either way, you can get a free attorney if you cannot afford one. The court will look into your finances and job situation to determine if you can afford an attorney or not.

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.

In this country, a jury of 12 will have to agree on your guilt 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. Your lawyer can help decide that based on the circumstances of the crime you have been charged with.

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 the right to an appeal to make sure the trial court, the police, and the prosecutor did their jobs correctly at your trial. 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.

I will 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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