A Primer on Maryland Courts

Do you know why Maryland has an “Orphans’ Court,” or which court hears landlord-tenant cases? You can find the answers to those questions, and others, in this primer we’ve written about Maryland courts.

The Maryland Court System

Maryland has four court levels: two trial courts (District Court and Circuit Courts) and two appellate courts (Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals). The Orphans’ Court handle wills, estates, and other probate matters. The Maryland Tax Court is not part of the judicial system but hears administrative appeals from the final decisions of Maryland or local tax authorities.

Here’s some basic information about the Maryland Court System:

District Court

The District Court of Maryland hears both civil cases (including claims up to $30,000, domestic violence cases, and landlord-tenant disputes) and criminal cases (motor vehicle violations, and other misdemeanors and limited felonies). For civil claims of $5,000 to $30,000, District Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit Courts, meaning either court could hear such a case. There are no juries in the District Court.

There are 12 court districts and 34 locations. At least one district court judge presides in every county and in Baltimore City. With the exception of the 1st District, which serves Baltimore City, the other districts serve particular counties:

  • 2nd District – Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester
  • 3rd District – Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot
  • 4th District – Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s
  • 5th District – Prince George’s
  • 6th District – Montgomery
  • 7th District – Anne Arundel
  • 8th District – Baltimore
  • 9th District – Harford
  • 10th District – Carroll, Howard
  • 11th District – Frederick, Washington
  • 12th District – Allegany, Garrett

Circuit Courts

The Circuit Courts of Maryland, located in all 23 counties and Baltimore City, hear major civil cases and criminal cases deemed to be “more serious” than those typically heard in District Courts. Cases in these courts may be decided by juries or by judges.

The Circuit Court also hears family law cases and appeals from the District Court, Orphans’ Court, and administrative agencies (including the Maryland Tax Court).

The courts are grouped by judicial district, each one representing certain counties, with the exception of the 8th Circuit, which covers only Baltimore City:

  • 1st Circuit – Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester
  • 2nd Circuit – Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot
  • 3rd Circuit – Baltimore County, Harford
  • 4th Circuit – Allegany, Garrett, Washington
  • 5th Circuit – Anne Arundel, Carroll, Howard
  • 6th Circuit – Frederick, Montgomery
  • 7th Circuit – Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s

Orphans’ Court

The name “Orphans’ Court” dates back to its founding in 1777, when it was named after the City of London’s Court for Widows and Orphans. This court handles probate cases (wills and estates) and can appoint guardians for minors.

Judges for this court are elected every four years. Three Orphans’ Court judges preside in each county, except in Harford and Montgomery counties, where the Circuit Court judges also handle probate cases.

Appellate Courts

Maryland has two levels of appellate courts, both of which are located in Annapolis:

Court of Special Appeals
The Court of Special Appeals is Maryland’s intermediate appellate court. This court reviews appeals from the Circuit and Orphans’ Courts. The Court of Special Appeals does not hear cases that had already been appealed to the Circuit Court, instead those cases must be appealed to the Court of Appeals. A total of 15 judges serve on this court, and while they may all hear a case together en banc, appeals are usually decided by a panel of three judges.

Court of Appeals
The Maryland Court of Appeals is the state’s highest court (commonly called the Supreme Court in other states). Seven judges serve on this court, which hears oral arguments four days per month, September through June.

The court of appeals is not obligated to consider an appeal from a lower court, unless it involves the death penalty, legislative redistricting, removal of certain state officials, or certifications of questions of law.  A party must file a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals if they want the Court of Appeals to hear their case.

The appellate court’s task is to review a trial court’s actions and decisions in a case and make judgments based on the facts, the law and legal precedent. For example, an attorney may ask the appellate court to review whether sentencing guidelines were properly applied. An appeals court may affirm the lower court’s decision, or remand – which means returning the case to the lower court with instructions about correcting errors. The appeals court may also reverse a lower court’s decision, which is what people usually mean when they say a verdict was “overturned.” The appeals court may also vacate a lower court’s decision, which may occur if a lower court lacked the proper jurisdiction to hear a case.

Federal Courts

Federal courts are authorized by the U.S. Constitution to deal with issues involving laws enacted by Congress, as contrasted with state courts, which apply the laws of the state and local governments. In addition to matters involving federal law, Federal courts handle bankruptcy cases and matters involving citizens of more than one state.

Contact Our Business Law Firm

Lusk Law, LLC, specializes in assisting businesses and individuals with their legal needs, including litigation and appeals in state and federal courts. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to business owners and individuals in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County, and other counties in Maryland. Please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about litigation.

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