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Published on 9/20/2023, 6:34:00 AM

Circuit Court vs District Court in Maryland - What's the Difference?

A Brief Overview of Maryland State Courts

Maryland's judicial history traces back centuries, continually evolving to serve the public's changing needs. As populations grew and legal complexities rose, there was a demand for a bifurcated system. Enter the District, Circuit, Appellate and Supreme Courts, each catering to specific legal needs of Maryland's citizens.

The Structure of Maryland's Courts

At the state level, Maryland's court structure goes as follows, starting with the lowest level of Maryland Courts:

  1. District Court(s) for each county
  2. Circuit Court for each county
  3. Apellate Court of Maryland
  4. Maryland Supreme Court

Maryland District Court: At a Glance

Jurisdiction and Cases Handled

District Courts are Maryland's lowest Court in every county and Baltimore City. They handle a wide spectrum of cases. From civil cases under $5,000, landlord-tenant disputes, to some criminal misdemeanors including:

Most felony cases begin in District Court and make their way to Circuit Court, but only after a preliminary hearing is held if it's requested.

Process and Proceedings in District Court

In the District Court, proceedings are relatively straightforward. Typically, a judge presides, ensuring a swift resolution. Traffic citations, for example, are swiftly addressed here along with misdemeanors and a select few felonies.

If a person would prefer their criminal case be heard by a jury, they may file a jury trial demand, or JTP. This would remove the case from the District Court and send it to the Circuit Court for a jury trial.

Advantages and Limitations of District Court

The District Court's charm lies in its efficiency. With no lengthy jury trials, cases move swiftly. However, this speed might sometimes feel rushed, with no provision for jury trials even if desired. Often cases in District Court have a trial date set right away, which puts the State's case on a fast track.

Maryland Circuit Court: Diving Deeper

Jurisdiction and Cases Handled

Think of Circuit Courts as the "heavier" counterpart to District Courts. They handle civil, major felony criminal cases, and intricate family matters, such as divorces or child custody battles.

Process and Proceedings

Here, the scene is grander. With an option for jury trials, cases are dissected in detail. A simple DUI in District Court can transform into an elaborate jury trial in Circuit Court.

Circuit Court criminal cases tend to have more Court dates ahead of trial, including potential hearings like:

  • An arraignment hearing
  • A "Status" hearing
  • A Pretrial Conference
  • A Settlement Conference
  • A Motions hearing
  • A Jury trial date(s)

Advantages and Limitations

With great scrutiny comes greater justice. The Circuit Court's detailed approach ensures every case layer is unveiled. However, this depth can mean longer wait times and a possibly overwhelming process for litigants.

Additionally, Circuit Court criminal cases are required to go to trial within 180 days of a Defendant's first appearance, which is codified under Maryland law.

How does a Criminal case get to Circuit Court

A criminal case can be brought to Circuit court several ways. These include

  1. Jury trial demand
  2. Criminial Indictment on a felony offense
  3. Criminal information on a misdemeanor or felony offense where probable cause was previously found by the District Court at a preliminary hearing

Comparing District and Circuit Courts

Key Differences

While both courts are pivotal in Maryland's judicial framework, they cater to distinct needs. District Courts handle less severe cases sans jury, ensuring quick resolutions. In contrast, Circuit Courts address grave matters, often involving juries and in-depth investigations and multiple Court dates.

How to Decide Where to File a Case

It's not always the litigant's choice, as the nature and severity of the case often dictate the court. However, in some overlapping scenarios, considering the speed, desired scrutiny level, and the possibility of a jury trial can guide the decision.

In criminal cases the State tends to control the venue of the offense. The only exception is when a case is removed from District Court to Circuit Court by the defendant and their attorney through a jury trial demand.

FrizWoods LLC: Your Guide in Both Arenas

Our Experience in District Court

Our firm has seen countless District Courtrooms in Maryland. Both Max Frizalone and Luke Woods appear in District Court several times per week on a wide array of misdemeanor criminal cases.

Our Expertise in Circuit Court

In the Circuit realm, we've defended everything from third DUI offenses to armed robbery, and even murder cases. Our strategies, tailored for this detailed arena, have often turned the tide for our clients.


Maryland's Circuit and District Courts, while part of the same judicial family, serve distinct roles. Understanding their nuances can make all the difference when faced with legal challenges.

Confused about where your case stands? Need expert legal advice tailored for Maryland courts? Look no further. FrizWoods LLC stands ready to guide, defend, and fight for you. Contact us today!