MARYLAND CRIMINAL APPEALS PROCESS
The Seddiq Law Firm handles criminal cases from the beginning to end. We aren’t “appeal lawyers” or “trial lawyers.” We are criminal defense lawyers. We believe that to be the best criminal defense attorney you need to be highly skilled in all areas. When preparing for your trial we are always making sure that your appellate issues are preserved for argument down the line. This article is meant to briefly explain the appellate process in Maryland.
Simply, an appeal is a request for some higher court to review your case. Where your case begins ultimately depends on which court will review your appeal. The three main levels in the Maryland court system are:
District Courts. District courts generally involve lower level offenses. However, do not be fooled. There are offenses in district court for which you can be found guilty, even without a jail sentence, that can affect your constitutional rights and your employment opportunities for a lifetime. For example, assault in the second degree is a common law misdemeanor in Maryland but a conviction will be considered a federal felony and will bar you from possessing a firearm. Any appeal from this court would be to the circuit court.
Circuit Courts. Circuit court is the general trial level stage for most of your more serious offenses. How your appeal will be handled at the appellate court level will greatly be determined by one event: did you or did you not plead guilty in your case?
Appellate Courts. (Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Maryland Court of Appeals). The Appellate courts handle all matters of appeals in Maryland. For criminal matters, the “default” is for the cases to be first heard at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
The appeals from each of these levels to the next are unique. Below is a general explanation but as with anything, this does not constitute advice as to your appeal because you may have unique circumstances in your case.
District Court Appeals. Appeals from the district court, depending on your charge, may be handled in two different ways. You may have the right to a de novo appeal. In a de novo appeal you would get a completely new trial at the circuit court. In a non-de novo appeal, you would not have a completely new trial but, yet your attorney would appeal the decision of the district court judge and your attorney would challenge the rationale of the judge below. If the circuit court denies you yet again, you do have an opportunity (not a right) to ask for further review by the appellate courts.
Circuit Court Appeals. The single most controlling factor in how your appeals is handled from the circuit court is whether you pled guilty. During your guilty plea, a judge will notify you that you are giving up your right to appeal. Without getting into too much detail, entering a guilty plea strikes two substantial blows to your appellate rights. First, it takes away your automatic right to an appeal. If you do appeal, you must ask permission to file an appeal. You may be denied this request. If you go to trial and lose you retain your right to appeal. You can file a notice of appeal and no one can do anything to stop you. On appeal, if you didn’t plead guilty, your appellate lawyer can raise many issues for you. This includes: illegal stops and searches, incorrect rulings by the judge, etc. The second blow to your appeal rights is that you can only appeal very particular things after you plead guilty. You can only raise on appeal 4 issues:
- The guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary.
- The court lacked jurisdiction.
- The sentence was illegal.
- The attorney was ineffective in his representation.
As you can see, a guilty plea greatly limits your options. In some instances, it might be worth it to the client in order to secure the offer made by the prosecutor. Each case is different. The important thing is that you understand what rights you are giving up prior to making the decision to waive them. Make sure, whether you hire our firm or someone else, that you ask all these questions prior to making the decision for a plea or trial.
Appellate Courts. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is generally your “first stop” for appeals from the circuit court. Your attorney will first file a notice of appeal. (must be done within 30 days of judgment) After that the transcripts are ordered; a schedule is set at the court for when the briefs are due. Your attorney will argue in written briefs that a decision below violated the rules or your constitutional rights. Your attorney also gets an opportunity, in addition to written briefs, to argue the case orally in front of the 3-judge panel. This is a great chance to advocate for your client. Our firm takes a lot of time in preparing for oral argument. If you lose at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals you can request via writ that the highest court, the Court of Appeals, review your decision. You are not entitled to this but if granted would give you yet another chance for review by a completely new set of judges.
Our firm offers free consultations on criminal trial and appeal matters. We have handled appeals in Maryland state and federal court, New York state and federal court, and Arkansas state and federal court. You can check out our client reviews below:
Mirriam Z. Seddiq. Mirriam’s client reviews
Justin Eisele. Justin’s client reviews