Maryland State Courts
The Maryland state courts are divided into two types of appellate courts and three types of trial courts. The Court of Appeals is the highest level appellate court in Maryland. The Court of Special Appeals is an intermediate level appellate court. Below it are the Maryland Circuit Courts and District Courts where a majority of trials are held. The Orphans’ Courts of Maryland also handle certain trial-type probate proceedings.
Maryland Court of Appeals
The Maryland Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state. The Court of Appeals has discretion whether or not to hear any of the cases before it. The process is by way of certiorari. By law, however, the Court of Appeals is required to hear certain cases, including cases involving: (i) the death penalty;(ii) legislative redistricting; (iii) removal of certain state officials; and (iv) the certifications of questions of law. There are seven judges that sit on the Court of Appeals.
Maryland Court of Special Appeals
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is an intermediate appellate court that, during an appeal, typically reviews decisions made by lower trial courts, such as the Circuit or District Courts. Appeals are most often heard by a panel of three judges.
Maryland Circuit Courts
Maryland Circuit Courts possess exclusive original jurisdiction over civil actions in which the damages claimed exceeds $30,000, exclusive of interest, costs and attorneys fees. For that reason, Circuit Courts generally handle the state’s major civil cases. Additionally, Circuit Courts hear more serious criminal matters, such as ones where the penalty is three or more years in prison, a fine of $2,500 or more, or both. Circuit Courts also hear juvenile cases and family matters/disputes. In addition to serving as a trial court, Circuit Courts also can serve in an appellate capacity. Circuit Courts will hear most appeals from the District Court, Orphans’ Courts and administrative agencies. Circuit Courts possess concurrent jurisdiction with Maryland District Courts over claims for damages between $5,000 and $30,000, and certain domestic violence proceedings. Sometimes a Circuit Court may hear a case from District Court where one of the parties requests a jury trial.
Maryland District Courts
The Maryland District Court is a trial court, but it has no ability to conduct jury trials. The court will typically hear the following types of cases: all landlord-tenant cases, replevin actions, motor vehicle violations, misdemeanors and certain felonies. In civil cases, the District Court has exclusive jurisdiction in claims for amounts up to $5,000, and concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts in claims for amounts above $5,000, but less than $30,000. The jurisdiction of the District Court is concurrent with that of the Circuit Court in criminal cases classified as misdemeanors, and certain felonies for which the penalty may be confinement for three years or more or a fine of $ 2,500 or more. More serious crimes are typically heard in Circuit Court.
As stated above, Maryland District Courts possess exclusive original civil jurisdiction over small claims actions. The damages claimed in these cases may not exceed $5,000, exclusive of interest, costs and attorneys’ fees. Maryland District Courts also possess exclusive original civil jurisdiction over contract actions and certain landlord/tenant actions claiming up to $5,000. There are separate rules of procedure that govern these claims that are more relaxed than the rules that govern trials in Circuit or District courts, generally. Parties have the ability to appeal a small claims decision as a matter of right.
Maryland Orphans’ Courts
Orphans’ Courts handle wills, estates, and other probate matters. In addition, they have jurisdiction, along with the Circuit Court as described above, to appoint guardians of the person, and to protect the estates of unemancipated minors (minors who remain under parental authority). An appeal from an Orphans’ Court generally may be to a Circuit Court.