The Maryland court system has four levels: two trial courts and two appellate courts.
The trial courts consider evidence presented in a case and make judgments based on the facts, the law and legal precedent (prior legal decisions from a higher court). Appellate courts review a trial court's actions and decisions and decide whether the trial judge properly followed the law and legal precedent.
For a detailed description of Maryland courts, see Maryland's Judicial System (pdf).
- Appellate Courts
Maryland has two appellate courts: the Supreme Court of Maryland, the highest court, and the Appellate Court of Maryland, the intermediate appellate court. These courts review a trial court’s (District or Circuit Court) actions and decisions in given cases and decide whether the trial judge properly followed the law and legal precedent.
- Circuit Court
Circuit Courts generally handles more serious criminal cases, major civil cases, including juvenile and other family law cases such as divorce, custody and child support and most cases appealed from the District Court, orphans’ courts and certain administrative agencies. Circuit courts also hear domestic violence cases. Each County and the City of Baltimore has a circuit court. Cases may involve juries or sometimes are heard by a judge only.
- District Court
Most people experience the court system through the District Court. Cases heard here include motor vehicle (traffic) and boating violations and other misdemeanors and specified felonies, domestic violence and peace order petitions, landlord-tenant disputes, small claims and other civil cases involving limited dollar amounts, and replevin (recovery of wrongfully taken or detained goods). Each county and the City of Baltimore has at least one District Court location. A case in the District Court is argued before a judge only: there are no jury trials in District Court.
- Orphans’ Court
The Orphans’ Court is a specialized court that handles wills, estates, and other probate matters and limited aspects of guardianship.
Other Bodies in Maryland
- Office of Administrative Hearings
The Office of Administrative Hearings listens to contested executive branch administrative law cases, except for those concerning officials or agencies exempted by law.
- Federal Courts in Maryland
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 their state and local governments. For more information, see the U.S. Courts' website.
- Attorney Grievance Commission oversees the conduct of both Maryland lawyers and nonmembers of the Maryland Bar who engage in the practice of law in the State.
- Board of Law Examiners administers bar examinations to persons seeking to be admitted to the practice of law.
- Client Protection Fund maintains the integrity and protects the good name of the legal profession. The Fund, supported financially by practicing attorneys, reimburses claimants for losses caused by theft of funds by members of the Maryland Bar, acting either as attorneys or as fiduciaries.
- Commission on Judicial Disabilitiesserves the public in a variety of ways. Its primary function is to receive, investigate and hear complaints against members of the Maryland Judiciary. It also supplies judicial nominating commissions with confidential information concerning reprimands to or pending charges against those judges seeking nomination to other judicial offices.
- Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure meets regularly to consider proposed amendments and additions to the Maryland Rules of Procedure and submits recommendations for change to the Supreme Court of Maryland.
- Thurgood Marshall State Law Library provides access for the law-related information needs of the Judiciary as well as the legal community, government agencies, and the public.
- Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) provides administrative services for the Maryland Judiciary. These include personnel administration, preparation and administration of the Judiciary's budget, planning and research, and information systems.