Frequently Asked Questions

What happens after I am arrested?
What happens if I receive a citation or summons directing me to appear for a preliminary inquiry?
What is a preliminary inquiry?
What is a preliminary hearing?
Will I have a record?
Can I appeal a verdict?
What is bail? How to post bail?
Do I need a lawyer?
How to get a lawyer?

What happens after I am arrested?
After you are arrested, you will be taken before a District Court commissioner who determines if probable cause exists to charge you.  The commissioner:
  • ensures that you understand the charges against you and the possible penalties,
  • advises you of your right to an attorney,
  • advises you of your responsibilities in obtaining an attorney,
  • decides whether you qualify to be represented by the Public Defender,
   (For more information, see the webpage, "How to Apply for a Public Defender".)
  • and determines whether bail should be set.
Provide the commissioner with any information s/he requests.

What happens if I receive a citation or summons directing me to appear for a preliminary inquiry?
You should appear for the preliminary inquiry at the scheduled date and time. If a time is not provided, appear within five (5) business days. The hearing will be cancelled if an attorney enters his/her appearance to represent you.

What is a preliminary inquiry?
A preliminary inquiry is a pre-trial hearing where you will be advised of your rights, the charges against you, and the possible penalties. It is conducted by a judicial officer when you have been charged with a jailable (must appear) offense by citation or summons.

What court will hear my case?
The District Court hears most cases involving motor vehicle violations, criminal misdemeanors and certain felonies. The circuit court hears cases involving serious felony crimes.

Will I be tried by a jury?
A judge hears District Court cases and many circuit court cases.  You may request a jury trial if you face a charge punishable by imprisonment for more than 90 days. A written request for a jury trial should be filed fifteen (15) days before the scheduled trial date, but can be made at any time before the trial starts.  If your case is set for trial in the circuit court, you will be asked whether you want a jury trial when you initially appear in the court.

What is a preliminary hearing?
A preliminary hearing is a hearing held in the District Court that determines if probable cause exists to charge you with a crime. You are not allowed to testify or offer evidence at this hearing. You do have the right to hear the evidence against you and to cross examine the state’s witness. If the court finds no probable cause, charges may be dismissed. (The state's attorney may refile charges later.)

You have a right to a preliminary hearing if you are charged with a felony or crime which must be tried in circuit court and you have not been indicted by the grand jury. You must request one within ten (10) days of your first appearance before the commissioner. If you waive your preliminary hearing, or if it is held and the court finds there is sufficient probable cause, the state’s attorney must:
  • file a charging document in the circuit court within thirty (30) days;
  • enter a nol pros (unwilling to proceed) or stet (a stay of proceedings) in the District Court; or
  • amend the charges so that they can be tried in the District Court.

Will I have a criminal record?
Records will exist on all charges filed against you and the disposition of those charges, including any convictions. If you are not convicted, court records will still exist on the charges filed against you and the result of the case.  Police agencies, the state’s attorney, and/or the public defender may maintain records of your arrest and/or trial.

Under certain conditions you may request that records pertaining to your case be sealed, shielded, or expunged. More information can be found on our Access to Judicial Records and Expungement webpages.

Can I appeal a verdict?
You have a right to appeal a guilty verdict entered against you in a District Court criminal or traffic case. You do not have a right to appeal a Probation Before Judgment (PBJ) disposition.

How and when should I plan an appeal?
File a Notice of Appeal (DC-CR-017) with the District Court within 30 days of disposition and pay the circuit court costs. See our Guide to Appeal Fees (DCA-109a). If you cannot pay, file a Request for Waiver of Prepaid Costs for Assembling the Record of an Appeal (CC-DC-091) to have the fee waived. The District Court cannot grant an extension of time for filing a Notice of Appeal.

Do I continue to pay fines during appeal?
Yes, you must continue to make scheduled payment of court ordered fines and costs unless the judge ordered that payment be stayed (stopped) or that the full amount be paid as a condition to forwarding the appeal. Requests for stay of payment must be made in writing at the same time that you file your appeal.

Am I still on probation during my appeal?
Yes, you must fulfill the terms and conditions of your probation, unless the judge has ordered a stay (stop or hold) of probation. Requests for stay of probation must be made in writing at the same time that you file your appeal.

Will I be released during appeal?
The judge will make that decision depending on the circumstances of the case. The District Court follows the guidelines established by the Supreme Court of Maryland to determine your confinement or release pending appeal.

Must I post new bail while my appeal is pending?
Original bail, if any, continues through an appeal unless discharged by the judge. If the judge sets an appeal bail greater than the original bail, you must post an additional bail to cover the increase.

Do I need a transcript for an appeal?
A transcript of the trial is not required in criminal or traffic appeals. If you would like to have a recording of your District Court trial, you may request one with payment of the cost. See our Transcripts and Recordings webpage for more information.

What is bail?
Bail is money paid to the court to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances.

Who can post bail for me?
You may: (1) post bail for yourself; (2) have someone over 18 years old post it on your behalf; or (3) use a professional bail bondsperson. Whoever posts bail for you assumes full responsibility for your appearance in court. If you fail to appear as required, a warrant will be issued for your arrest and the bail will be forfeited.

How can I post bail?
Bail may be posted in the following manner:

1. Cash Bail
"Cash bond" may be posted by the defendant, an individual, or by a private surety. Failure to pay child support may be posted by the defendant only. If you appear for trial or the charges are disposed of before trial, the amount posted will be refunded. If you do not appear, the bail becomes due and any cash posted will be forfeited.

2. Property Bail
Property (land or home) in Maryland may be used to post bail, provided that the net equity in the property meets or exceeds the amount of bail. To determine net equity, deduct any liens, mortgages or deeds of trust, and ground rent, capitalized at 6 percent, from the assessed value of the property.

When posting property, you need to provide tax bills, assessment notices, copies of a recorded deed or other public records. Each person whose name appears on the tax bill must sign the form, unless a power of attorney has been executed by one or both parties authorizing another signature.

3.  Intangible Assets
Acceptable intangible assets include:
a. Bankbooks and certificates of deposit accepted at 100 percent of stated value,
b. Letters of credit from a bank,
c. Certificates for stocks listed on the American or New York Stock Exchange, accepted at 75 percent of the present exchange quotation.

Only a clerk of the court may accept intangible assets; a commissioner may not. Take the required documents to a clerk at the court location where the case is pending.

4. Credit and Debit Cards
Bail may be charged on certain credit and debit cards.  Although a commissioner or clerk accepts the card, an independent company processes the charge.  The charge includes the amount of the bail and a service fee. These charges will appear on your next credit or debit card statement. The card and personal identification must be produced in person at the time of posting bail. (Contact a District Court commissioner or clerk for information on cards accepted and the fees charged.)

5. Professional Bail Bondsperson
A bail bondsperson charges a non refundable fee to post bail. In addition to the fee, the bondsperson may require collateral security or property to secure your release. Collateral will be returned to the person who posted it after disposition of the charges. The service fee and collateral received must be displayed on the bail bond form.  Make certain that the information is correct on the form, that you receive a receipt, and that you understand the action the bondsperson may take if you don't meet your obligations.

Do I need a lawyer?
You are not required to have a lawyer. However, a lawyer will give you legal advice, help defend you, explain any potential collateral consequences of a conviction, including immigration consequences, and protect your interests before the court.

How do I get a lawyer?
If you wish to hire a lawyer but do not know one, or if you wish to defend yourself but want to consult with a lawyer, the Lawyer Referral Service of the Maryland State Bar Association can help. 

The State may supply you with an attorney if:
  • your charge is punishable by jail time;
  • you cannot afford an attorney; and
  • you meet eligibility requirements.

Contact information for District Court Commissioner's Offices can be found at: If you require further information about qualifying for a Public Defender, call 1-833-453-9799. For more information, see the How to Apply for a Public Defender webpage.

If you do not meet eligibility requirements for a public defender, many organizations and law firms provide free or low cost legal services. Contact the Maryland State Bar Association or a local bar association for assistance.

When should I contact a lawyer?
Immediately. A lawyer will need time to prepare your case for trial. If you are not represented by your own lawyer or by the public defender by the time of your trial, the judge may proceed to trial without a lawyer representing you.

It is your responsibility to obtain a lawyer.