Initial appearance attorney lawyer Stephen P. Shepard in Towson, Maryland Baltimore County

An Overview of an Initial Appearance in Maryland

For anyone involved in the criminal justice system for the first time, the process can feel extremely overwhelming and confusing. As a criminal defense attorney in Towson, Maryland, I regularly guide clients through this maze. One crucial step is the ‘initial appearance.’ This blog post will provide an overview of an initial appearance in Maryland.

What is an Initial Appearance?

In the Maryland criminal justice system, an initial appearance is a Defendant’s first encounter with a judicial officer after their initial arrest. It is not a formal court trial, but a preliminary proceeding where the judicial officer, typically a District Court Commissioner, informs the Defendant of the charges against them, the maximum possible penalties for those charges, and the factual allegations in support of the charges. The commissioner will also inform the Defendant of their right to an attorney and, if requested, can qualify the Defendant for representation by the Office of the Public Defender if they cannot afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney. Last, but not least, the commissioner will make a pre-trial release determination as to whether the Defendant should be held without bail, released on bail, or released on their own personal recognizance.

Notification of Rights and Charges

The first significant aspect of an initial appearance in Maryland is the notification of the rights and charges. Here, the commissioner will explain the charges that the State has leveled against the Defendant. They should also provide a clear explanation of the Defendant’s rights. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to a speedy trial. In cases where the Defendant is accused of certain felonies, the commissioner will also advise the Defendant of their right to a preliminary hearing.

Determining Representation

The initial appearance also determines who will represent the Defendant at future the court proceedings. If the Defendant can afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney, then he or she is free to do so. On the other hand, the Defendant can apply for representation by the Office of the Public Defender if he or she cannot afford to hire private counsel. Of course, a Defendant is not required to have a criminal defense attorney and may represent themselves, although such action is usually not recommended for numerous reasons.

Bail Determination

Perhaps the most critical part of the initial appearance is when the commissioner makes a determination regarding bail or pre-trial release. The commissioner is basically limited to three options: Hold the Defendant without bail, set a monetary bail and release the Defendant once it has been posted, or release the Defendant on his or own personal recognizance. If the Defendant is held without bail or is unable to post the amount of bail set by the commissioner, then he or she will go before a judge the next business day for a bail review.

In making a pre-trial release determination at an initial appearance, the commissioner will consider several factors. The factors to be considered are laid out in Md. Rule 4-216.1. The two primary factors that the commissioner will consider are whether the Defendant poses a danger to themselves or others and whether the Defendant poses a flight risk and may not appear for court. In examining those factors, the commissioner will look to other factors such as the Defendant’s ties to the community, whether the Defendant is employed, and the nature of the charges and allegations against the Defendant. No one factor alone is determinative. Instead, the commissioner looks at all factors in their totality in making a pre-trial release determination.

For example, let us say that you were arrested for a non-violent offense (such as trespassing) and have no previous criminal record and multiple ties to the local community. The commissioner might release you on your recognizance, meaning that you would be released without having to pay a bail as long as you promise to appear in court for your trial. On the other hand, if you were arrested for a violent offense (such as first-degree assault) and have a history of not showing up for court, the commissioner could set a high bail amount or even deny bail altogether.

Initial Appearance Attorney in Towson, Maryland

An initial appearance in Maryland serves multiple purposes: informing the Defendant of their rights and charges, establishing representation, and deciding on bail. It is a crucial stage in the criminal justice process. As an experienced criminal defense attorney in Towson, Maryland, I am here to guide you through every step of this complex process. Remember, understanding your rights and what to expect can help reduce anxiety and increase your chances of a favorable outcome.

Contact our office today if you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Maryland. Every person deserves an experienced and committed advocate to protect their rights and navigate the intricacies of the criminal justice system.

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