What Every Person Needs to About Maryland’s District Court: Resources for Korean Speakers
The District Court in Maryland is a single statewide court with 34 court locations (in English) in 12 jurisdictions.
- The District Court is one of two trial courts (where most cases start) in Maryland.
- Over 2 million cases are filed every year.
- The District Court is the court where civil (non-criminal) claims under $5,000 in money damages are heard (called small claims court).
When do I file civil claim in District Court versus a Circuit Court?
Claims up to $5,000 must be filed in District Court. As of October 1, 2007, if the claim is between $5,000 and $30,000, you can file the claim in either the District or a Circuit Court and claims for more than $30,000 must be filed in a Circuit Court.
|Types of cases heard in District Court|
District Court hears both criminal and non-criminal (civil) cases.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
That will depend on several factors: the type of case, your comfort with representing yourself, and how much you have to lose. Some considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether it is a good idea to represent yourself:
- Can you stick to deadlines no matter what? Will you be on time and prepared? If you are acting as your own attorney, the court will expect you to stick to deadlines, and to be prompt and prepared at all times.
- Are you organized? Do you pay attention to detail? Are you comfortable using a library or legal information websites? Selecting, completing, filing and tracking legal forms can be extensive work and you will need to spend time learning about the law, court procedures and rules. You may need to research whether your case can be handled by the court and how to present your case. Your chances of success will be lower unless you are able to attain some of these skills and get comfortable doing legal research.
- Are you deeply emotionally involved in the case? If you want to get “even” or you have a close relationship with the opposing party, it can be difficult to represent yourself. You will probably find yourself making poor legal decisions. Also, if you are related or close to the opposing party, it may be hard to reach agreements and make service. If some topics will trigger arguments, it is be better to have someone represent you who is neutral and can make better decisions.
- Can you get to the courthouse during the day? You do not need to go often but you will need to arrange to take time off work on occasion to go to court or develop your case. For example, you may need time in the middle of the day to go to court to pick up a subpoena.
- Are you comfortable speaking in public? Representing yourself requires that you feel comfortable answering questions and "thinking on your feet." You will have to tell your story to the judge, and you should expect questions from the judge as well as the opposing party. If you represent yourself, you need to be able to focus on your case and remain calm.
What will it cost to have a case heard in District Court?
- There are filing and service fees and there is the possibility of attorney fees. You and your attorney will determine the amount of the attorney’s fees, if you decide to hire one.
- The fees in District Court are generally modest ranging from $2 - $35.
- If you file in court, you will need to pay a filing fee (except if you are the petitioner in a domestic violence case). If you ask to court to take some action later in the case, there may be another fee. Examples of common filing fees include:
- Filing a complaint for an amount over $5,000: $30
- Filing a complaint for small claim (amount is $5,000 or less): $20
- Filing for temporary peace order: $30
- Request for Writ of Garnishment of Property/Wages: $10
- If the sheriff or the court clerk helps you serve the court papers to the other side, there will be a fee. Examples of service fees:
- Service by Sheriff: $30 per defendant or address. (Cecil County - $35)
- Mailing by Clerk: $10 per defendant or address.
- For more details about the court fees please consult the fee guide provided by the District Court (in English).
Alternatives to Court
Particularly in small claims cases it makes sense to try to resolve a dispute before going to the expense and time of going to court. One alternative to going to court is mediation, where you and the other party would attempt to resolve the issues you have in a neutral out-of-court setting, with a neutral person trying to help direct the parties in resolving the issues. If you decide to pursue mediation, you may ask the District Court to help you select a mediator.
What will happen at the hearing?
- The person who filed the lawsuit (the plaintiff) and the person who was sued (the defendant) are the parties to the lawsuit. Both are entitled to appear in court.
- There will be a judge but no jury in small claims cases. If you request jury trial, the case will be transferred to Circuit Court.
- Both parties are allowed to speak and to present documents, drawings, photographs and other evidence as well as witnesses.
- IMPORTANT TIP: There are differences in the rules for how the hearing will be conducted in small claims cases (up to $5,000) and large claim cases (up to $30,000 as of October 1, 2007). The rules are much more formal in the large claim cases. The advice or representation of an attorney is likely to be very helpful.
How Can You Collect the Judgment?
If you win, the next step will be to collect the amount ordered by the judge.
- You need to collect the funds on your own. The court will not collect it for you.
- However, if you do not receive the amount due to you in 30 days (unless there was an agreement to pay in installments), you can go back to court to try to have the money taken out of the other person’s pay check or to try to claim some personal property.
- The district court provides a brochure that explains how to collect judgments (PDF—10 pages).
- This brochure includes the steps you need to take if a defendant is uncooperative, which may lead to wage garnishment: getting the court to order the defendant’s employer to give you part of the defendant’s paycheck until your judgment is satisfied (PDF—5 pages).
- This is often a relatively fast way to get a case before a judge (there are no juries in small claims court).
- Small claims are handled less formally than other cases. Many people handle their cases without an attorney.
- The District Court provides a brochure in Korean to help understand the process of filing a small claim (PDF—24 pages).
- While you can hire an attorney, the court’s rules are simplified in small claims cases to make it easier for individuals to represent themselves.
- To be tried as a small claim in District Court, your case must meet the following conditions:
- Your claim is for $5,000 or less; and,
- Your claim is only for money, NOT the return of property or performance of a service; and,
- You are not going to request any discovery such as interrogatories (written questions that the other side must answer under oath in writing, before trial).
If you do not meet ALL three of these conditions, you do not have a small claim, though your case may still be filed in District Court, under a different action.
The District Court hears the majority of landlord-tenant disputes in Maryland.
- When a landlord and a tenant enter into a lease agreement, both parties have certain rights and responsibilities.
- The District Court provides a brochure in Korean that explains the actions a tenant may take against a landlord (PDF, 8 pages) in particular situations, including serious health and safety issues (such as fire hazards and rental property being fixed upon request), excessive noise or other major disturbances, illegal entry onto rental property by landlord, and failure to return security deposit.
Seeking the Return of Property: "Replevin" & "Detinue" Claims
- Replevin is a legal action that allows you to seek the return of property, and possible damages, prior to a trial. Replevin claims are filed in District Court, regardless of the amount in action, and this action provides for a hearing where immediate possession of property may be determined prior to a trial.
- Detinue seeks the return of property OR compensation for its value, and possible damages, but does not allow for a hearing prior to trial to determine immediate possession of property. Detinue claims must be filed in District Court if they are under $5,000. As of October 1, 2007, detinue claims between $5,000 and $30,000 can be filed either in District or Circuit Court, and claims over $30,000 must be filed in Circuit Court.
- For detinue actions filed before October 1, 2007, claims between $5,000 and $25,000 may be filed either in District or Circuit Court, and claims over $25,000 must be filed in Circuit Court.
- Both replevin and a detinue require a trial to determine the rightful owner of the property and any possible damages.
- The District Court has a Korean brochure that explains replevin and detinue claims (PDF, 4 pages) in detail, including what they are, how they can be filed, where they should be filed, and what else you can expect.
If you believe a crime has been committed against you or a minor in your custody, the District Court provides a fact sheet that helps you determine what steps you should take to file a criminal complaint (PDF—2 pages).
Bad Check Violation
- The steps to file a criminal complaint for a bad check violation are slightly different from filing a general criminal complaint, so the District Court has a brochure on how to deal with bad check violations (PDF—3 pages).
- The brochure explains what qualifies as a “bad check,” what time-periods apply, and more.
Criminal Defendant’s Rights
- After you are arrested, you will be taken before a District Court commissioner. You should provide the commissioner with any information requested.
- The commissioner will determine if there is probable cause (reasonable belief, based on facts and circumstances, that you committed or were about to commit a crime) to charge you.
- The commissioner will explain the charges against you and the possible penalties, then ask if you understand them as he/she has explained them. The commissioner will also tell you of your right to an attorney and your responsibilities in obtaining an attorney.
- The commissioner decides whether you should be detained or released pending trial, and determines whether bail should be set.
- For more information on what happens when you are arrested (PDF—1 page), please consult the District Court’s brochure in Korean covering that topic.
Removal of Criminal Record
- Expungement is the removal of police and court records from public inspection.
- Expungement does not apply to a record about a minor traffic violation.
- If you have been charged with a crime, including a traffic violation for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed, you may file a petition for expungement if:
- You were found not guilty
- If you were found guilty of a public nuisance crime, including urination in a public place, panhandling, loitering, and vagrancy. House Bill 685 (effective 10/1/08)
- The charge was dismissed
- The charge resulted in probation before judgment (excluding charges of driving while under the influence or driving while impaired)
- The State’s Attorney did not prosecute (nol prosequi) your charge
- The Court indefinitely postponed your case (stet)
- Your case was compromised (settled)
- If you were granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor
- For more information, please consult the District Court’s brochure in Korean on how to petition for expungement (PDF, 2 pages).
Transcripts and Recordings of Proceedings in District Court
All proceedings before the District Court of Maryland are recorded. A typed transcript of a proceeding will be produced under certain limited conditions. Recordings on cassette tape or compact disc format may be requested by anyone.
- Transcripts may be obtained only when the person making the request has appealed a District Court judgment in a civil case where the amount in dispute is more than $5,000. In such instances, you must request that a transcript be forwarded to the circuit court. When you make your request, you must submit a copy of your appeal letter, along with a $75 deposit. The court will prepare one original, which is sent to the circuit court and one copy, which is sent to you. For more details on requesting a transcript including the procedure to be followed and the costs associated with it, please consult the District Court fact sheet on requesting a transcript (PDF—2 pages).
- Recordings. Anyone may request a copy of an audio recording of a case, regardless of whether the individual making the request was a party in that case. Requests for recordings must be submitted in writing to the clerk’s office. The cost for the recording is $15 per case. A party to any case, or the attorney for any party, may be permitted to listen to the recording of the trial of that case, at a time and a place determined by a judge to be appropriate. For more details, including the formats a recording can come in, and process for making a request, please consult the District Court fact sheet on requesting a recording of court proceedings (PDF—2 pages).