Commonly Used Legal Terms in Maryland’s Criminal Court
By Lee J. Eidelberg
When faced with the unfortunate circumstance of being charged with a serious motor vehicle violation or a criminal offense in Maryland, it’s important to become familiar with the terminology that is customarily used in the State’s traffic and criminal courts. Brushing up on the most commonly used legal terms will allow you to gather a better understanding of the events at hand and the possible options concerning the resolution of your case.
In Maryland, there are two ways a felony can be charged in the circuit court: criminal information and grand jury indictment. An indictment occurs when a person is formally charged with the commission of a crime by a grand jury. The grand jury meets in secret and determines whether probable cause exists to charge the offender. The defendant does not have the right to present evidence to the grand jury and may not even know unless arrested beforehand by the police, that charges are imminent. A criminal information is a formal charging document issued by the Office of the State’s Attorney after probable cause has been determined by a judge at a preliminary hearing.
A shortened version of nolle prosequi which translates from Latin to “we shall no longer prosecute”. Essentially, a nol pros occurs when the prosecutor informs the Court that the State declines to proceed with a criminal case. Unlike a case placed on the “stet” docket, one who has criminal charges resolved by nol pros can petition the court to expunge the public records of their offense – charging documents, records maintained in the clerk’s office and information on Maryland’s Judiciary Case Search – without a waiting period.
A case placed on the stet docket is inactive and for all intent and purposes, closed in the court system. However, the case is neither dismissed nor prosecuted and may be reopened within one year, for any reason, by request of either the State or the Defendant. For the next two years, the case can only be reopened and prosecuted by the State upon a showing of “good cause.” Sometimes the Defendant must fulfill certain conditions as part of a stet. If those conditions are not fulfilled, the stet can be reopened as explained above. Unlike a case that is nol prossed and subject to specified exceptions, the public records for the underlying offense placed on the stet docket may be expunged after three years. Since the case is indefinitely suspended, the only right the Defendant waives by accepting a stet is their right, guaranteed by the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions, to a speedy trial.
Probation Before Judgement (“PBJ”)
In Maryland, PBJ refers to the act of withholding a conviction on the Defendant’s criminal record and placing the offender on placing a defendant on probation, either supervised or unsupervised. Not only will the individual avoid a guilty finding or “conviction” on their record, but he or she will have the opportunity to have the records of their offense expunged after successfully completing probation.
More common for first-time offenders who are ineligible or unsuited for PBJ, a suspended sentence is offered to individuals who have committed serious traffic offenses or crimes that do not warrant incarceration. Jail sentences for a conviction are imposed but “suspended” by the Court. Instead, the offender completes probation with the understanding that if probation is violated, the “suspended” jail sentence can, in the court’s discretion, be imposed.
Note: This article is provided for informational purposes only, and no one should rely upon the information contained herein as constituting legal advice. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between any attorney and any other person, group or entity. No representations or warranties whatsoever, express or implied, are given as to the accuracy or applicability of the information contained herein. The information may be modified or rendered incorrect by future legislative or judicial developments and may not be applicable to any individual reader’s facts and circumstances. It is strongly suggested that you seek individual counsel to review your specific needs and goals.
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*If you have questions regarding Maryland criminal law, please contact LEVIN GANN P A principal, Lee J. Eidelberg, Esquire.