|Willis & Henderson, P.A., has extensive experience
defending clients against criminal charges. Although you
could certainly represent yourself, you owe it to yourself
to have competent legal representation, particularly when
you are facing time in jail. The legal system is
complicated and sometimes mysterious. There are rules
that must be followed, deadlines that need to be met, and
the system has little sympathy for the defendant.
A few important topics are briefly discussed below to
give you some idea of what is going on in a criminal case,
and to help you realize that it is complicated and you need
help navigating the system.
The fact that you are reading this probably means that you
or someone you know has been charged with a crime.
This section is intended to give you an idea of what to do,
what not to do, and what the process is if you are arrested
or charged with a crime.
If you are charged with a crime, either you will be
arrested or you will be sent a criminal summons telling
you what you have been charged with, and where and
when and to appear in court. If you receive a criminal
summons, you should consult a lawyer as soon as you
can. Lawyers are very busy, and will not be able to help
you if you call only a short time before the trial. Call
when you get the summons.
If you receive a notice that there is a warrant for your
arrest, you will need to turn yourself in. In come counties
you can arrange a time and place with the police to turn
yourself in so they don’t show up at work, or at your
home. You should contact a lawyer before doing so.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE ARRESTED
When you are arrested there are a few rules to follow:
Rule No. 1: Shut up. Everything you say can and will be
used against you. These are words that every school boy
knows, and they are words to live by. When you are
arrested, the police will probably try to sweet talk you
into making a confession and signing it. They will
promise that things will go easier on you, that if you tell
everything you did they will not charge you with any new
crimes, they will put in a good word for you, and other
such statements which, shall we say, are misstatements of
the truth. They will try to get you to sign a waiver of
rights, and to write out a confession and sign it. Or the
cop will write it for you, have you read it, make
corrections that you initial, and sign it. (The corrections
and initials part is an old cop trick to show that you read
it and knew what was in it, and that it was voluntary; the
errors are intentional.) Remember, when the police arrest
you, they believe with all their heart that you are a
criminal, and that you are guilty of the crime with which
you have been charged. Although they may act nice and
polite, they think very poorly of you, and wish only to
have you confess so their job is easier. Don’t talk to them.
Don’t say anything and don’t sign anything (except routine
administrative documents). Politely tell the police that
you would like to cooperate, but that you need to talk to
your lawyer, and wish to have your lawyer present during
any questioning. Then don’t say anything else.
The fact is, the police have no power or authority with
respect to working out a deal for you; only the State’s
Attorney can do that. Will you see a State’s Attorney in
the interrogation room? No, there will be just cops.
Maybe good cop and bad cop were there, but there was
no State’s Attorney. And whether it be good cop or bad
cop, they are not there to help you, and they are not your
friend. They are there because they believe that a crime
was committed and that you did it. That makes you a dirt
bag in their eyes. I assure you that if you do confess to
anything for which you have not yet been charged, you
will be charged, no matter what they tell you. That’s what
cops do. Don’t say anything, other than that you want to
talk to your lawyer.
We are not suggesting that you cop an attitude or be rude
to the police. Quite the contrary. Be courteous, respectful,
and polite. Call them “sir” or “ma’am.” Do what they
tell you to do (except confess), and behave. They are
mean and they will hurt you. You have enough trouble.
If you have already been arrested, unless you have some
experience with that process and knew to be quiet, or to
“lawyer up,” you probably already confessed. You can at
least limit the damage by not saying anything else. Call a
Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 3: Be cooperative, polite, respectful, and do as
you are told (except confess). Do not argue with the
police, or fight them. You will lose.
Rule No. 4: Do not waive your rights. You will be given
several papers to sign. They are generally routine
documents that you should read and then sign. But look
for a document that says you know your rights, that you
have been advised that you don’t have to answer their
questions, that you have a right to a lawyer, etc., but that
you waive these rights. DON’T DO IT. You are not
required to sign away your rights.
Rule No. 5: Call a Lawyer. Call Jack Willis or Mike
If you are arrested you will be brought before a
commissioner who will determine the terms of your
release, which will be a factor of your criminal record,
your ties to the community, and the nature of your crime.
If you were arrested for something small and have no
criminal background, you will probably be released on
your own recognizance. If you did something serious,
have a serious criminal record, or have a history of not
showing up to your court dates, you will end up with a
bond that will be set in an amount that satisfies the
commissioner’s that you will show up for trial.
Sometimes you may be able to get a 10% bond, where you
only need to pay 10% of the total bond into court. Ask for
it. If not, you either need to come up with the whole thing,
or go to a bail bondsman, who will charge you 10% of the
bond as his fee, which you will not get back.
If you can’t afford the bond the commissioner gives you,
you will stay in jail until you raise the bond, or it is
reduced. Usually there is a bail review hearing within a
day or so (i.e. when the court is in session) where a judge
will determine whether to reduce your bail or not. This is
a good time for you to have a lawyer. Sometimes the
judge will feel better about letting you out (will be less
concerned that you will flee) when you have a lawyer. If
you get locked up and can’t make bail, call a lawyer.
If you pay the bond and fail to appear at your trial, or for
any court date, there will be bench warrant for your arrest
issued, and you will forfeit the bond. If this happens, and
you have a reasonable excuse, a lawyer may be able to
help get the warrant quashed (taken off) and the bond
When you are arrested and are before the
commissioner, you will be told that you have 10 days to
request a preliminary hearing if you are charged with a
crime outside the jurisdiction of the district court (all
commissioners work at the district court, and that is
where you will be taken when arrested). Most felonies
(with some exceptions, such as felony theft) are outside
the jurisdiction of the district court, and will need to go to
the circuit court. The purpose of the preliminary hearing
is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the
court to find probable cause that you committed the
crime. That is a low standard and will almost always be
met. You are not allowed to present evidence or testify at
the preliminary hearing, but you have the right to cross
examine witnesses. If you request a preliminary hearing,
the State’s Attorney may just go ahead and indict you, at
least in some counties. Contact a lawyer if your think you
may want a preliminary hearing, or you have requested
one and it is already scheduled.
FELONIES AND MISDEMEANORS
In Maryland, as in most places, crimes are broken
down into these two categories. Generally, felonies are
more serious crimes than misdemeanors. For example,
Maryland has the crime of “theft.” Theft over $500 is a
felony, less than $500 is a misdemeanor. That doesn’t
mean, however, that the penalty for a misdemeanor is
light. Some carry sentences of 10 years or more. The
only way to tell whether a crime is a felony or a
misdemeanor in Maryland is to read the statute.
Most misdemeanors are within the exclusive original
jurisdiction of the district court, and felonies are in the
circuit court, although there are some exceptions. A
misdemeanor that starts out in the district court may end
up in the circuit court if the defendant requests a jury trial,
or if there is an appeal.
Anyone charged with a crime that carries a penalty in
excess of 90 days is entitled to a jury trial, whether a
felony or misdemeanor. If the case started in the district
court, it will be transferred to the circuit court upon
requesting a jury trial. If the case is in the district court
and you do not request a jury trial, the case will be heard
by the judge (a so-called court trial), and he or she will
decide your guilt or innocence.
Juries consist of 12 people chosen at random from the
motor and voter registration rolls of the county in which
the case is being tried. You and your lawyer will go
through a process of jury selection on the day of trial.
All criminal cases have a right to an appeal, which
must be requested in writing within 30 days of
sentencing. If the case was heard in the district court,
your appeal will be to the circuit court, where you will
have a whole new trial. If the case was in the circuit
court, the appeal will be to the Court of Special Appeals,
and will be heard on the record. That is, there will not be
a new trial, but the appellate court will look at the record
and decide whether there was any mistake made and, if
so, whether it warrants return or remand to the circuit
court. That description is somewhat of a simplification.
If you wish to appeal your case, you need to tell your
lawyer right away. If you miss the 30 day deadline, you
are out of luck (although there may be exceptions to this
rule that your lawyer can help you with).