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Published on 6/11/2024, 2:13:00 PM

Can Anyone File Criminal Charges in Maryland?

There's a dirty little secret most people don't know in Maryland. Anyone can file criminal charges simply by swearing out a charging document before a commissioner. Maryland law allows individuals to initiate criminal charges through a District Court commissioner. This comes as a shock to most people, who are unaware that our state allows for civilian filed criminal charges on any offense. Once a civilian complaint is reviewed by a commissioner, charges are issued as State of Maryland vs The Defendant, despite the fact that no state actor requested charges.

This process might have been designed to provide access to justice for everyone; however, it often results in frivolous filings and abuse of the criminal process. In this blog post, we'll delve into how this process works, the role of commissioners, and the benefits of hiring an attorney when facing criminal charges, even seemingly silly ones.

Understanding the Role of District Court Commissioners

District Court commissioners play a crucial role in Maryland's justice system. According to Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. Section 2-607, commissioners are appointed by the administrative judge of each district with the approval of the Chief Judge of the District Court. They have the authority to:

Commissioners are available in each county to ensure that the public and police have access to the justice system for obtaining charging documents, warrants, or criminal summonses. This setup ensures that individuals can seek legal recourse in a timely manner.

Is it true that my wife can file criminal charges against me?

If a person follows the process below, then yes - they can file criminal charges against anyone. These charges require a person to swear out their application under penalty of perjury; however, they aren't required to speak with a police officer or provide any physical evidence. This often results in the filing of charges which Police declined to prosecute or charges lacking any actual evidence.

In practice, criminal charges are often filed alongside applications for protective orders in domestic violence scenarios.

How to defend against false charges

Civilian complaints often only tell one side of a story and aren't properly investigated before charges are issued. Police officers who aren't sure a crime is committed might have referred one or both parties involved to go to the commissioner to swear out charges. This results in criminal charges being issued when a crime might not have occurred at all.

Most States Attorney's Offices have a "screening unit" assigned to review these complaints. This should consist of a meeting or phone call giving the complainant an opportunity to provide evidence. Frivolous complaints should be filtered out before trial; however, no system is perfect.

Filing Criminal Charges: The Process

Step 1: Filing an Application for a Statement of Charges

If you believe a crime has been committed, you can file an application for a statement of charges with a District Court commissioner. This application involves providing detailed information about the alleged offense, including:

  • The nature of the crime.
  • The identity of the alleged perpetrator.
  • Any evidence or witnesses that support your claim.

Step 2: Commissioner Review

Once the application is filed, the commissioner reviews it to determine if there is probable cause to issue a charging document. This involves evaluating the evidence and circumstances presented in the application. If the commissioner finds probable cause, they may issue either a summons or an arrest warrant.

Step 3: Issuance of a Summons or Arrest Warrant

  • Summons: If a summons is issued, the defendant is notified to appear in court to answer the charges.
  • Arrest Warrant: An arrest warrant is issued if there is a reason to believe the defendant may not respond to a summons or poses a danger to the community. Specific conditions must be met for an arrest warrant to be issued, such as the defendant's unknown whereabouts or previous failure to respond to a summons.

The Benefits of Hiring an Attorney

Navigating the criminal justice system can be complex and intimidating. If you are facing charges, having an experienced attorney by your side can provide numerous benefits.

Expertise in Legal Procedures

An attorney understands the intricacies of the legal system and can guide you through the process, ensuring that all necessary paperwork is properly completed and filed. This expertise can be crucial in presenting a strong case and avoiding procedural errors that could jeopardize your application.

Protecting Your Rights

If you are facing criminal charges, an attorney can protect your constitutional rights throughout the process. They can ensure that you are treated fairly and that your defense is presented effectively in court.

Strategic Defense

An experienced attorney can develop a strategic defense tailored to the specifics of your case. This may involve challenging the evidence, negotiating plea deals, or representing you in court to achieve the best possible outcome.

Emotional Support and Guidance

Facing criminal charges can be stressful and overwhelming. An attorney can provide not only legal advice but also emotional support and reassurance, helping you navigate this challenging time with confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I file criminal charges against anyone?

Yes, anyone can file an application for a statement of charges with a District Court commissioner in Maryland. The commissioner will review the application to determine if there is probable cause to issue a charging document. Filing of false charges could result in a perjury charge.

What happens if the commissioner finds probable cause?

If the commissioner finds probable cause, they can issue a summons for the defendant to appear in court or an arrest warrant for their apprehension.

How does a commissioner determine probable cause?

A commissioner reviews the application and any supporting evidence to determine if there is enough reason to believe that the alleged crime occurred. This often only consists of reading the written statement of the alleged victim. The commissioner should look at the elements of a criminal offense to determine if the statement could even support a criminal act.

Can a commissioner issue an arrest warrant for any reason?

No, a commissioner can issue an arrest warrant only under specific conditions, such as if the defendant has previously failed to respond to a summons, if their whereabouts are unknown, if they are in custody for another offense, or if they pose a danger to the community.

Conclusion

Filing criminal charges in Maryland is a process that is accessible to everyone, thanks to the role of District Court commissioners. Understanding how this process works and the benefits of legal representation can help you navigate the justice system effectively. Whether you are seeking justice or defending your rights, FrizWoods LLC is here to provide the expert legal support you need.