Law Day Series – District Court v. Circuit Court

In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

At the Law Library, library users are often confused as to whether they should be in Circuit Court (this is where the Law Library is located) or District Court. As both courts are trial courts in the Maryland Court System, this confusion is understandable.

So, where should you be? District Court or Circuit Court? The answer depends on your matter.

The District Courts are the trial courts with jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases, replevin (return of property), detinue (return of property or its value), motor vehicle violations/traffic citations, and certain criminal matters (misdemeanors and certain felonies). The court has exclusive jurisdiction for claims under $5,000. However, the District Courts share jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts for claims above $5,000 but less than $30,000. There is also shared jurisdiction for certain criminal cases.Also, there are no jury trials in District Court. The majority of people will find themselves dealing with the District Court.

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 jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is broader than that of the District Court and includes family law cases (e.g.,divorce, custody), civil matters for claims above $30,000 and juvenile matters.

Here are some helpful resources for matters.

Note that the Maryland District Court is distinct and separate from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. If you are representing yourself in the United States District Court, you may find their Self-Help webpage helpful. Note that the United States District Court is part of the federal judicial system, not the Maryland state judicial system.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact the Law Library

Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which will provide an overview of primary legal sources in Maryland.


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