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What’s the Difference Between District Court and Circuit Court in Maryland?

district court behind a man standing in suit

There are two different court systems for criminal cases in Maryland – District Court and Circuit Court.

Generally, District Court hears misdemeanor cases and Circuit Court hears felony cases. There are some technicalities that make things more complicated, but the misdemeanor/felony distinction is a good starting point. District Court cases are heard by a single judge. A District Court case will usually have fewer court dates and will be resolved more quickly. District Court handles routine traffic tickets like speeding, as well as more serious traffic cases like DUIs. If you have a trial date in District Court, your case will likely be one of dozens of other cases on the docket that day. Even though District Court cases are typically less serious than Circuit Court, a poor result in District Court can result in significant jail time, probation, and criminal record consequences.

Most felony cases are heard in the Circuit Court. In some circumstances, the prosecutor makes the choice of whether to file in District or Circuit Court. Circuit Court trials are typically before a jury and are given more time and attention by the Court and the prosecutor. Circuit Court cases have more court dates to litigate issues and exchange discovery.

You need an experienced criminal defense attorney to manage your case throughout the two court systems to get the best possible outcome. Many times, we are able to negotiate with the prosecutor to make sure that our clients’ cases are filed in a more favorable court system. If you are facing criminal charges, contact our office today to get an assessment so that we are able to strategically plan your best defense.


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