When someone is arrested in Maryland, they are taken before a judicial officer for an initial appearance. This is their first chance to win their release and begin to fight the charges.
What is an Initial Appearance?
Once the police officer completes the booking process, he or she will bring the accused before a District Court Commissioner. A District Court Commissioner is not a judge. In fact, they are not even attorneys and the only job requirement is that they possess a college degree. However, they are still considered judicial officers and given a great degree of power. The proceeding following an arrest is called an initial appearance because it is the accused person’s first time before a judicial officer to address the charge(s) against him or her. The initial appearance serves several important purposes:
What is the Role of the District Court Commissioner?
The primary role of the District Court Commissioner is to carry out the purposes that are listed above, especially that of making a preliminary determination as to the pre-trial release status of the accused.
The following are not the proper roles of a District Court Commissioner:
If any of the above actions occur at your initial appearance, you should document everything thoroughly and report them to a supervisor and contact a private attorney or public defender.
Pre-Trial Release: The Decision Process
Recent changes in Maryland law are designed to encourage the release of the accused on his or her personal recognizance when possible. A District Court Commissioner generally has the discretion to release the accused on his or her own personal recognizance, set a secured or unsecured bail that must be posted for the accused to be released, or hold the accused without bail. In making this important decision, the District Court Commissioner is supposed to consider several factors, including the following:
In some cases, the District Court Commissioner may be prohibited by law from releasing the accused or setting any amount of bail. However, in cases where bail is authorized by law, the District Court Commissioner is constitutionally prohibited from setting a bail that is unreasonable.
How an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Remember that the accused has a right to request and receive an appointed attorney for free at an initial appearance. However, not all of the appointed attorneys are experienced criminal defense attorneys who are familiar with criminal law and procedure. And the old adage, “you get what you pay for,” sadly holds weight with some appointed attorneys. Your best bet is to have an experienced Baltimore County criminal defense attorney at your side. A criminal defense attorney can help you in the following ways: