In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts this month that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.
The Maryland court system has four levels.
- Two trial courts – District Court (34 locations) and Circuit Court (24 locations)
- Two appellate courts – Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals
The District Courts are the trial courts where most Marylanders interact with the Maryland Court System. There are 34 District Court locations statewide with jurisdiction over various matters such as landlord-tenant cases, motor vehicle violations, and certain criminal matters. The court has exclusive jurisdiction for claims under $5,000, but shares jurisdiction for claims above $5,000 but less than $30,000 with the Circuit Court. There is also shared jurisdiction with the Circuit Court for certain criminal cases. Judges, not juries, make all of the District Court decisions because there are no jury trials in District Court. You can learn more about the District Court here.
The Circuit Courts are the trial courts for generally more serious criminal cases and major civil cases. Trials can be decided by jury or by a judge in the Circuit Court. The types of cases heard in Circuit Court include family law cases (e.g., divorce, custody), civil matters for claims above $30,000 and juvenile matters. There are 24 circuit court locations, one in each county in Maryland and the City of Baltimore. The Circuit Courts are organized into eight judicial circuits. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, which is where the Law Library is located, is part of the 5th Circuit. You can learn more about the Circuit Courts here.
The Court of Special Appeals is the second highest court in Maryland and the intermediate appellate court. This means that the Court of Special Appeals hears any prior reviewable judgment, decree, order or other action of the District Court, Circuit Court and Orphans’ Court. Unlike the District Courts and the Circuit Courts, there is only one Court of Special Appeals, which is located in Annapolis, Maryland. The Court of Special Appeals has fifteen judges who normally decide cases in panels of three, but, in certain situations, all fifteen judges will decide a single case (sit en banc). You can learn more about the Court of Special Appeals here.
The Court of Appeals is the highest court in Maryland (often called the Supreme Court in other states and in the Federal court system). The seven judges who sit on the Court of Appeals review and select the cases that they will hear, and the seven judges hear the cases together. This selection process by the Court of Appeals means that the court does not automatically hear every case that is reviewable. Instead, the court generally selects those cases that have legal significance for the state. However, the Court of Appeals must hear all reviewable cases involving the death penalty, legislative redistricting, removal of certain officers, and certifications of questions of law. The Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in cases four days per month from September through June of each year. You can see their calendar here. Similar to the Court of Special Appeals, there is only one Court of Appeals, which is located in Annapolis, Maryland. You can learn more about the Court of Appeals here.
Note that the Federal courts located in Maryland are not part of the Maryland court system. If you want to learn more about the Federal courts in Maryland, check out the U.S. Courts’ website. The key difference between the Federal courts and the Maryland courts is that the Federal courts are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and mainly deal with federal laws (e.g., the laws that have been enacted by the U.S. Congress) whereas the Maryland courts are authorized by the Maryland Constitution and mainly deal with state and local laws.
To learn more, the Maryland Judiciary provides a detailed description of the Maryland court system at http://www.courts.state.md.us/publications/pdfs/mdjudicialsystem.pdf (en Español). In addition, you can check out these videos.
Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which provide information about the Maryland Orphans’ Court.