Your Baltimore Criminal Case: The Basics
After seeing that new band at the Ottobar you were inspired. You got home, dusted off the electric guitar and amp, and started playing. It was late. Really late. And you were loud. Really loud. That annoying downstairs neighbor started knocking on your floor. You might have yelled something impolite.
The next thing you know, he is at your front door screaming in your face, and you get into a scuffle. No doubt tipped off by the earlier noise, police have arrived as well. Now you are being arrested for assault and disturbing the peace. What happens now? Here is some basic information to help you with your criminal case in Baltimore.
For an overview of criminal charges, procedures, rights and more, be sure to also check out FindLaw's general section on Criminal Law.
You've probably already met the Baltimore Police. Who else will you likely be dealing with in your journey through Baltimore's criminal justice system?
Other law enforcement agencies you might encounter if you are involved in a criminal case in Charm City include the Baltimore County Sheriff or the Maryland State Police. The Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all crimes in Baltimore. If you can't afford a defense attorney, and your case involves a possible jail sentence or a fine over $500, you can request representation through the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.
Booking and Bail
After you have been arrested, you will be taken to be "booked." This is when the police take down your information and officially put you in the system. You can expect to be fingerprinted, searched, and have your mug shot taken. In Baltimore, you will most likely be booked at the "CBIF" -- Central Booking Intake Facility.
Getting out of there is probably next on your agenda. In some cases, you can be released on your "own recognizance" which means that you promise to appear in all court proceedings. Sometimes a monetary promise to appear, known as bail, is required.
Classification of Crimes
Criminal charges are generally characterized as either "misdemeanors" or "felonies." For the most part, misdemeanors are considered less serious and the punishment is lighter. Sometimes the "same" crime can be classified as a misdemeanor under certain circumstances and a felony under others.
For example, in Baltimore and the rest of Maryland, if you steal something that has a value between $100 and $999, it's considered a misdemeanor and is subject to imprisonment for up to 18 months and up to a $500 fine. However, if you steal something that has a value of $1000 to $9,999, that's considered a felony and is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and up to a $10,000 fine.
Case Flow and the Courts
Classification as a misdemeanor or felony doesn't just impact the penalty associated with your crime, it can also affect how your case will proceed.
In Baltimore, if you are charged with a misdemeanor your case will likely be heard by the Maryland District Court. The District Court has jurisdiction over misdemeanor and certain felony cases. Trials in the District Court are before a judge not a jury. You may request a jury trial on your misdemeanor charge and, if granted, the case will be transferred to the Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court for Baltimore City hears the major felony cases, including death penalty cases, as well as misdemeanor cases where a jury has been requested. Here is a helpful flow chart from the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office about the basic criminal justice process.
There are differences depending on the specifics of your case, and whether you're charged with a misdemeanor or felony, but the common court appearances in a criminal case typically include preliminary hearing, arraignment, trial, and sentencing. Check out FindLaw's section on Criminal Procedure for more detailed information about the stages of a criminal case.
Although you can represent yourself, it is recommended that you seek legal representation when you've been charged with a crime. A lawyer can help develop an appropriate defense strategy for your case, effectively negotiate with the prosecutor, and help make sense of all the rules and regulations.