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Kush Arora on Felony and Misdemeanor Cases in Maryland

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Maryland criminal defense attorney Kush Arora.

How does the state of Maryland treat felony cases?

Kush Arora: Felony cases are handled in Maryland in a unique way. Usually, a felony case will be charged by an officer and get a preliminary hearing date. A preliminary hearing date is set in district court where, usually, they only hear misdemeanor cases. When that preliminary hearing date is scheduled, it is usually a date that is set in place so that a prosecutor can demonstrate to a judge that the state has enough evidence to move forward on the criminal charges as felonies. If, on that hearing date, a judge is not satisfied, a judge can throw the felony charges out and force the state to only move forward on the misdemeanor offenses. A prosecutor does not have to wait for that preliminary hearing date to move forward on the felonies, however. A case can be sent to the grand jury, which meets in secret. The grand jury has witnesses testify before it and determines whether or not the state has enough information to move forward on the felony charges or not. This is commonly referred to as an “indictment,” where a case is indicted and proceeds to the circuit court on the felony charges. Once the case is indicted and the felonies are taken to circuit court, or a judge at the preliminary hearing stage finds enough information to move the case to circuit court, another process begins. That process begins with several meetings with the prosecutor, as well as with the judge that is presiding over the court’s actual trial or over the preliminary hearings that are leading up to that trial date. They make sure that the prosecutor is providing the defense with all of the discovery and evidence that the defense needs to prepare for the case and also set dates such as motions hearing dates, where the attorneys can litigate which evidence a jury or a judge might see when the case finally gets to trial. Finally, they set a trial date where a judge or a jury determines whether or not the state has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

How does the state of Maryland treat misdemeanor cases?

Kush Arora: Misdemeanor cases are treated differently than felony cases. In a misdemeanor case, once a person is charged and a bond review hearing takes place, either before a commissioner or before a judge, the person is assigned a criminal trial date. Usually, that criminal trial date is about 30 to 45 days after a person is originally charged, unless the charges are traffic infractions such as DUI or driving while suspended, which usually take a few more months to get to court. There are no separate motions hearings. These cases are set on a docket with many other cases that are similar in nature and a prosecutor discusses with the defense attorney how best to proceed on the case, what evidence they have, and whether or not they have the witnesses that they need, in advance of that docket date. On the day of the docket, all cases that are entered as pleas of guilty are heard first. Then, anybody who wishes to contest the evidence against them will have their case heard. The judge will determine whether or not the state has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, the allegations that they’re pursuing.