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Progression of a Criminal Case Through the Courts

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Maryland State Court

Trial
Charges are usually brought in the district court initially. The case will either be tried in district court or, if the defendant is indicted, the case will be tried in the circuit court.

Sentencing
Following sentencing in most cases, a defendant has the right, within 30 days of sentencing, to file an application for review of sentence by a three judge panel. Additionally, within 90 days of sentencing, a defendant has the right to file a motion for modification of sentence, requesting that the sentencing judge reconsider the sentence.

Direct Appeal
Following trial, a defendant may appeal his or her conviction to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. Issues raised on direct appeal are typically trial or sentencing errors that were objected to by trial counsel. A defendant who pleads guilty has more limited rights of appeal that are generally restricted to attacking the voluntariness of the guilty plea.

If the Court of Special Appeals affirms the convictions and sentences, a defendant may petition the Court of Appeals of Maryland for permission to appeal the case to that court. Whether or not the Court of Appeals chooses to hear the case is entirely within the court’s discretion.

Post-Conviction Proceedings
After the direct appeal has been exhausted, a defendant may bring a petition for post-conviction relief in the circuit court. This is the forum to raise issues that are not always evident in the record, such as ineffective assistance of trial and/or appellate counsel. Petitioners who were sentenced after October 1, 1995, have ten years from the date of sentencing to file a petition for post-conviction relief.

If the petition for post-conviction relief is denied, a petitioner may file an application for leave to appeal, seeking permission to appeal the circuit court’s decision. If granted, the petitioner may then appeal the circuit court’s denial of the post-conviction petition to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. The denial of an application for leave to appeal cannot be appealed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings
Once all state remedies have been exhausted, a petitioner may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court alleging violations of federal constitutional rights. Federal habeas petitions are subject to a narrow statute of limitations period and higher standards of proof.

If the federal district court denies the petition, a petitioner may appeal to the appropriate United States Court of Appeals only if he or she is granted a certificate of appealability. An application for certificate of appealability is filed first in the appropriate United States district court and, if denied, in the United States Court of Appeals for the appropriate circuit.

Federal Courts

Trial
All cases are tried in the United States District Courts.

Appeal
A defendant may appeal his or her conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals. Convictions out of the U.S. District Courts of Maryland and Virginia are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Convictions out of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are appealed to the D.C. Circuit. Issues raised on direct appeal are usually trial or sentencing errors that were objected to by trial counsel. A defendant who pleads guilty has more restricted rights of appeal that are generally limited to attacking the voluntariness of the guilty plea.

If the convictions and sentences are affirmed, a defendant may petition the United States Supreme Court for permission to appeal the case to that court. The Supreme Court takes cases in very limited circumstances.

Habeas Corpus Proceedings
Once all direct appeal remedies have been exhausted, a petitioner may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court alleging violations of federal constitutional rights. This is the forum to raise issues that are not always evident in the record, such as ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

If the federal district court denies the petition, a petitioner may appeal to the appropriate United States Circuit Court only if he or she is granted a certificate of appealability. An application for certificate of appealability is filed first in the United States District Court and, if denied, in the United States Court of Appeals for the appropriate circuit.

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