What does it mean to be charged with a felony in the state of Maryland? What is a felony?

  • A felony is the more serious type of crime. In Maryland, or in most states, there are felonies and misdemeanors.
  • Misdemeanors are sort of your garden variety crimes. They are the least serious. They range from shoplifting to simple assaults to even DUIs where no one gets hurt or killed are misdemeanors.
  • Felonies are the things at the more serious end. Obviously, you have things like murder or rape, but burglary, robbery certain thefts, if you steal enough money, are even serious assaults. All of those are felonies. And in Maryland there is a separate procedure when a felony is charged.
  • Often the way that a case is charged is someone goes to the district court commissioner and they fill out an application for statement of charges.

What this is, is just they’re saying, “here’s what I think happened”. And the commissioner’s going to say, “all right, based on what you’ve told me, I’m going to issue the following charges.” The person who files this application can be a police officer. That’s how most crimes are charged, but it can be a regular citizen.

If you believe someone’s committed a crime against you, you can go to the commissioner’s office and file an application for statement of charges. Once that application has been filed and the commissioner has issued charges, either a summons will issue, or a warrant will issue. Both of those will be for a case in the district court.

In Maryland, district court handles a higher volume of cases, but they tend to be less serious than circuit court, which handles fewer cases, but they are more serious cases. Once you’re charged with either a summons or a warrant, you will get your paperwork, or you may be arrested. And if you were charged with a felony, if one of the charges that the district court commissioner issues what issued was a felony, then you’ll be looking at what’s called a preliminary hearing.

You’re entitled to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days of those charges being filed.

Preliminary Hearing:

  • What a preliminary hearing is something that’s unique only to felonies.
  • Misdemeanors do not get a preliminary hearing, and I get questions from clients who are charged with felonies who have a preliminary hearing scheduled all the time about what it means.
  • Preliminary hearings are very, very simple. As I said, these cases start out in district court. However, a felony cannot usually be heard in district court. It needs to be heard in an instructed court with certain exceptions.
  • A preliminary hearing is a hearing where a judge will hear some amount of evidence that the state puts on. And at that hearing, the judge will determine if based on what he or she has heard, there is enough probable cause for those felonies to go forward.

The probable cause is a very, very low burden that the state must make. What I often tell clients who have a preliminary hearing scheduled is the judge is going to look at the statement of charges that was filed in the case and they’re going to say, assuming all of this is true.

  1. Is there enough probable cause to issue.
  2. Is there enough for these probable felony charges to go forward?

It’s not quite that simple, but preliminary hearings almost always result in probable cause being found and the felonies being advanced to circuit court. Now, some jurisdictions do preliminary hearings regularly.

If you’re charged with a felony, you’ll have your preliminary hearing and then your case will be moved on to circuit court, if the felony still stands. Sometimes the state will decide that they don’t want to go forward with a felony charge. At your preliminary hearing, they will dismiss the felony charges and they’ll decide to keep the case in district court and just proceed on the misdemeanor charges.

That happens a fair amount and a lawyer can be helpful throughout that process to negotiate with the state and try to get them to drop the charges, to see why the case is not necessarily as serious as it first appears. But if the state does want to go forward with the case, they have a couple options.

First, as I’ve been talking about, they can go forward with the preliminary hearing, but actually that’s the less popular way to go forward in most jurisdictions. What states like to do in most jurisdictions or what the state likes to do in most jurisdictions is to indict someone.


An indictment is another procedure to determine if there’s probable cause. But instead of going before a judge, the state goes before a special jury called a grand jury. The state will present evidence there and that evidence is usually going to be investigators. It can be witnesses it can be physical evidence, and the grand jury will decide if there is enough evidence for probable cause for charges to issue.

If the grand jury issues that indictment, if the grand jury indicts someone on a case, then the case can proceed. In circuit court, the grand jury is automatically a circuit court procedure. And so, in circuit court there will be felony charges and there’s no preliminary hearing at all.

What can confuse people is that someone who’s charged with a case in district court can still be indicted on that exact same case. Now, obviously both cases can’t continue to go forward, but just because you’re charged with something in district court doesn’t mean the state can’t then indict you and dismiss the district court case. And that’s what happens in many felony cases.

Once the case has made its way to circuit court, what happens there is very similar to any other case. Typically, the next court date is going to be some kind of initial appearance.

Every county does things a little bit differently, but typically you’re looking at an initial appearance. That’s a hearing where if someone is not represented by an attorney, a judge is going to tell them that if they don’t come back with an attorney, they might have to go forward without an attorney or if they are represented with an attorney, typically a judge is going to schedule dates in the case.

So, if there needs to be some kind of pretrial conference or a status conference, if there needs to be a motions hearing in the case or sometimes, they’ll even schedule the trial date at that hearing. And then from there the case will proceed.

Conferences and Hearings

As I said, there can be pretrial conferences or status conferences just to figure out what’s going on in the case. There can be motions hearings, which are hearings to determine if certain evidence is allowed to come in at a trial. Often for felony cases, these motions hearings can be very, very important and they can really decide the case. It can be a trial before the trial because if the state can’t proceed with certain key pieces of evidence, then the entire case might fall apart. And I’ll talk about motions in a feature video because there are a lot of different kinds of motions.

Going To Trial

Finally, there’s the trial date. For all cases in the circuit court, including all felonies, you have a statutory right to be heard within six months. That’s called your hicks, right. It’s based on a case, Hicks, which has been incorporated into this Maryland rules. So, within 180 days, you have your right to have your case heard. If it goes beyond those 180 days, then the court will need to find good cause that the case won’t just get thrown out.

Courts are very careful about scheduling your trial date within those six months. There are a lot of different steps, especially for felony cases. Once you’ve been charged, there’s the initial charges, there’s preliminary hearing, there’s indictment, there’s initial appearance or an arraignment. There are status conferences, pretrial conferences, there’s motions, hearings, and there’s trials. And at every one of those steps, having a lawyer can be extremely helpful.

If you’ve been charged with anything, and especially if you’ve been charged with a felony to reach out to us as soon as you can here at Paré and Associates, we are always happy to help.