If you have entered a guilty plea or have been found guilty of a crime, you may be able to overturn your conviction or change your sentence with an appeal. Maryland appeals must be filed within short time limits after your case is over, and the help of a lawyer is essential. Even if you are not eligible for an appeal, there are other ways to reverse or expunge older cases that do not involve appeals. Contact me immediately if you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your case, or if you think that you may want to appeal.
Appeals from a Trial Court
In Maryland, a criminal defendant will be tried in one of Maryland’s two trial courts. Lesser crimes start in District Court, and more severe crimes start in Circuit Court. In either case, you have the right to be represented by a lawyer at every stage of the process. You also have the right not to be tried twice for the same offense. That means that if we win at trial in either District Court or Circuit Court, the State cannot appeal our victory, or bring those same charges again.
You have a right to one appeal, and if that fails, you can ask the Maryland Court of Appeals to hear a second level of appeal. The Maryland Court of Appeals is our highest court. It is the Maryland State version of the U.S. Supreme Court.
If your first trial is in District Court, you can appeal and get a completely new trial in Circuit Court, just by filing the right paperwork. You do not have to show that the District Court made a mistake to get a new trial or sentencing proceeding in the Circuit Court.
If your first trial is in Circuit Court, you can appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but you will not get a new trial unless we can show that the Circuit Court did something wrong. After your first appeal, you can ask the Maryland Court of Appeals to consider a second appeal. The Maryland Court of Appeals is not required to hear your appeal, unlike the Court of Special Appeals.
The District Court is a trial court with somewhat abbreviated procedures, where the decisions are made by judges, not juries. If a sentence of greater than 90 days may be imposed, you can demand a jury trial and have your case removed to Circuit Court.
If you lose at trial in the District Court, or if you plea guilty or no contest, you can appeal your case to the Circuit Court within 30 calendar days.
Appeals from District Court to Circuit Court
If you appeal to the Circuit Court, you will not just get a new verdict, you will get a totally new trial process, without reference to any of the decisions made in the District Court. This gives your lawyer an opportunity to call different witnesses, demand a jury, to file new motions, and to get different rulings from the court on evidence and preliminary matters. You can get an entirely new lawyer if you want. Even if you lose or plea guilty in District Court, you will have the opportunity to be sentenced again by a different judge, who may give you a lesser or a greater sentence than you received in District Court. A guilty plea in District Court can be used against you in Circuit Court, but it will not necessarily result in your conviction by itself.
A motion for reconsideration of your sentence is not an appeal, but it can serve the same purpose if your goal is a reduced sentence.
If you lose at trial, or if you plea guilty or no contest, you will be sentenced by the judge in that court. If you do not want to change the finding of guilt, but you do want to shorten the sentence or be granted a disposition of probation before judgment, you can ask the judge to reconsider your sentence within 90 days. When the judge reconsiders your sentence, he can lower your sentence if he wants, but he cannot raise it. Because your sentence cannot be raised, a motion for reconsideration is almost always a good idea, even if you also plan to appeal or have an appeal pending.
A motion for reconsideration can ask for your sentence to be reconsidered now, or later. I can also ask the judge to reconsider your sentence, but to only do so after you ask for a hearing at some point in the future. Then, a few months or a few years later, after you have successfully completed at least part of your sentence and lived lawfully for some time, you can ask for a hearing that may result in a reduced sentence. At the hearing, the court may also change the disposition from guilty to probation before judgment, which may allow expungement of your record.
Appeals to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals
If you lose your first trial in the Circuit Court, you can file an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is solely an appellate court, not a trial court like the District and Circuit court. This means that they will not hear new evidence, and the rulings that they make will be based only on what happened or should have happened in the lower court. If your trial was defective enough, they will grant you a new trial. In some cases, if the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict you the first time, and the issue was properly raised, they may order entry of a judgment of acquittal, which would not allow a new trial.
Appeals to the Maryland Court of Appeals
If you lose in both the District and Circuit Court, or if you lose both in the Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals, you can appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland. They decide which cases they will take, and which they will not. Like the Court of Special Appeals, they are also solely an appellate court – if they consider your case, they will decide with reference to what happened in the trial court. If you win, your relief will likely be in the form of a new trial. If you lose the new trial, you can appeal the loss.
Assuming that the prosecutor does not decide to drop the charges, and that you continue to preserve your right to appeal, the process continues until you either win a trial, decide not to appeal, or lose at each level of appeal available.
The appeal process is complex, and you will need a lawyer to effectively use the opportunities available to you. If you are disappointed with the judgment of the court, or your sentence, call (301) 556‑8709 so that we can get to work on your case.