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Are Maryland Court Records Public?

The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) stipulates that the general public can access court records in the State of Maryland. The Act was enacted in 1970 and had its purposes similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The PIA seeks to protect the citizens' privacy rights and legitimate governmental interests while granting public access to public records. In the State of Maryland, court records are considered to be public records and include documents, exhibits, and other information maintained by courts for cases held there.

However, access to certain court records and documents is restricted and can only be granted if a court order or a provision of the law permits it. Under certain situations, the parties involved in a case may request that the court keep their court records out of the public domain. An example is the expungement of records, where information about a court case is removed from courts and law enforcement agencies' records.

How Do I Find Court Records in Maryland?

The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in the State of Maryland is to send a request to the courthouse where the records are stored. Keeping the records of a court case in Maryland is the responsibility of the court clerk's office in the courthouse where the case was heard. Requests for court records may be made in person or via electronic means. Requesters who wish to obtain court records in person may visit the Office of the Clerk of the court where the case was filed.

Court records may be viewed or copied by anyone in person at the clerk's office unless otherwise restricted by the law. To view these records, the requester may provide the clerk with the case number of the recorded case in question. If the case number is not available, the clerk may search for the case file with the name of the parties involved in the case as provided. Viewing of court records is free of charge.

To obtain copies of court records or documents, the requester may be charged a "reasonable fee" by the court clerk. Note, however, that the clerk may not charge any fee if it takes less than two hours to find the requested records. A full list of the state courts and their contact information is provided in the Court Directory on the Maryland State Courts website.

Requesters may access court records remotely using the Maryland Judiciary Case Search tool. The Judiciary Case Search tool was implemented in 2006 to provide remote access to information commonly requested at clerks' offices. Court case information that may be accessed via the Case Search includes names of parties, case number, city and state of parties, case charge, trial date, and case disposition.

Court records available via the Case Search include those for traffic, criminal and civil cases from the Maryland District Court and Maryland Circuit Courts. Petitions, appeals, attorney grievances, and judicial disability cases from the Maryland Court of Appeals are also accessible. It also provides access to appeals and applications (for leave to appeal) and miscellaneous cases from the Court of Special Appeals. However, protection by the Maryland Rules on Access to Court Records prohibits certain cases from being accessed via the Case Search.

Alternatively, requesters may visit the Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC) to view or file case documents. The MDEC is a statewide Case Management System. It is only required for use by attorneys and not the public. However, members of the public may be granted access to the MDEC if certain conditions are met. MDEC kiosks may also be established by courts for the public to view court records.

Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through traditional government sources and third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. To gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:

  • The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method. 
  • The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states. 

While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government-sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites compared to government sources.

How Do Maryland Courts Work?

In Maryland, courts shoulder the responsibility of settling all kinds of legal disputes between individuals, organizations, and other entities in the state. The Maryland State Court System consists of four levels of courts, including two appellate and two trial courts. The trial courts hear and decide different kinds of cases presented for judgment. Their rulings are based on evidence, facts, the law, and prior higher court decisions. Trial courts in the State of Maryland include the District Court and the Circuit Courts.

The District Court exercises jurisdiction over civil cases with claims of not more than $5,000. It shares jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts on civil case claims over $5,000 but not more than $30,000. It also shares jurisdiction with Circuit Courts on criminal cases with penalties of more than 3-year terms or a monetary fine of $2,500 and above. It can also handle certain felonies but does not conduct jury trials. There are 33 District Court locations across the counties in Maryland, grouped into 12 districts. Baltimore City and every other county are presided over by at least one District Court judge.

The Circuit Courts in the State of Maryland are referred to as the trial courts of general jurisdiction. They usually hear and decide major and more serious criminal and civil cases. Maryland Circuit Courts hear appeals from the District Court, Orphans' Courts, and other administrative agencies. They may decide cases either by the judge alone or by juries. Circuit Courts are split into eight judicial circuits. The City of Baltimore and each of the 23 counties in Maryland have a Circuit Court, each with its own clerk's office.

Appellate courts in the State of Maryland review and decide appeals from the trial courts. They mostly do not conduct new hearings or hold trials. Instead, they consider appeals to ensure that the trial courts' decisions are correct according to the law and legal precedent. The two types of appellate courts in Maryland are the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals.

The intermediate appellate court in the State of Maryland is the Court of Special Appeals. Founded in 1966, the court was termed "Special" because initially, it handled only criminal cases. The Court of Special Appeals hears appeals from the Circuit Courts. Cases are heard and decided by a panel of three judges. In some cases, all the 15 judges of the court gather together (en banc) to hear a case. When a case is appealed from the Court of Special Appeals, it is sent to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals is the highest court in the State of Maryland. It reserves the right to decide whether or not to hear an appeal. This ability is known as certiorari. The Chief Judge hears cases in the Court of Appeals alongside six other judges. A judge may decide to excuse themself from a case's judgment and may be replaced by another judge or a retired appellate judge.

Apart from these courts mentioned above, there are other judicial bodies in the state. They include the Orphan's Courts and Office of Administrative Hearings. These are courts that treat special cases as assigned to them by the law.

 

Maryland Court Structure

What Are Civil Courts and Small Claims?

Civil cases are court cases that involve disputes between two private entities. It may be between individuals, between an individual and a company, or between companies. Civil cases in the State of Maryland are heard and decided by District Courts and the Circuit Courts.  The District Court exercises exclusive jurisdiction in civil matters where the amount in the claim is not more than $5,000. They share jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts in civil claims with amounts within the range of $5,000 to $25,000.

Claims of over $25,000 are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts, except for landlord-tenant matters or in replevin. Note that anyone who is up to 18 years old or more can file a civil case. Small claims cases are handled by the Small Claims Court, a division of the District Court of the State of Maryland. Such cases involve disputes with claims of less than $5,000, and its claim must be only for money. Claims involving the return of property or service are not allowed in small claim cases. Small claim cases are treated with relatively less formality and with simpler rules of procedure.

As such, a party may choose whether or not to be represented by an attorney. The judge decides a small claims case, so there are no juries. Also, note that only persons who are up to 18 years and above can file a small claims case. If the interested person is below 18, the lawsuit may be filed on behalf of the plaintiff by another person whose age qualifies.

What Are Appeals and Court Limits?

An appeal is an application for a higher court to review the decision of a lower court. Appeals are filed by parties who do not find the decisions of courts satisfactory in their cases. A party who files an appeal usually does so in a document written to the appellate court, which finally decides the case. The brief may provide legal reasons to persuade the appellate court to reverse the decision in favor of the appellant.

The Court of Special Appeals decides cases that are appealed from the Circuit and Orphans' Courts. The court decides cases via a panel of three judges, one of which authors the court's decision in a written format. Sometimes, appeals are decided by the full court consisting of all fifteen judges of the court.

In any situation where the Court of Special Appeals' decisions are not satisfactory, they may be appealed to the Court of Appeals. This is the last level of appeal, as the Court of Appeals is the highest court in Maryland. The Court of Appeals has the right to choose whether to attend to an appeal or not. However, they are compelled by the law under certain conditions to hear and decide on some cases.

How Do I Find My Case Number in Maryland?

A case number is a unique number used to identify a court case. The case number’s uniqueness helps make a court record distinct from another, no matter how similar other details seem. To find the case number of a case in Maryland, the requester may contact the court where the case is filed. Most times, it is the courthouse clerk that keeps the information about a case in the court. Hence, the clerk may locate a case file especially when provided with other details such as the name of parties, attorneys, etc.

For the contact information of the different clerks of state courts in Maryland, requesters may refer to the Court Directory provided on the Maryland State Courts' official website. Alternatively, case numbers may be obtained via the Case Search facility provided by the Maryland State Judiciary. Interested persons may obtain case numbers by searching for case records via the Name Search option.

The case number is part of the available information, which may be displayed about a case when obtained by name search. Case numbers may consist of some crucial information about a case, which includes:

  • The case type
  • Year of filing
  • Officer assigned to the case

Can You Look up Court Cases in Maryland?

Information about ongoing and concluded cases can be obtained via the Case Search tool, which grants access to cases from both the trial and the appellate courts. For appellate court cases, different cases are allocated to different term years. A typical term year kicks off by September 1 and ends on the last day of August of the following year. Appellate cases available on the Case Search are those from the 2016 term year upwards.

For District Court cases, the Case Search grants access to criminal cases from 1991 and civil cases from 1989. Traffic cases that have been closed for a long time may be transferred into the history database. However, Court Clerks have the right to retrieve information from the history database back into the Case Search. Case information may also be looked up from the Clerk's Office of the courthouse where it was filed.

Does Maryland Hold Remote Court Trials?

As provided by Maryland Rule 2-802, the state's trial courts have the legal permission to hold remote trials. Judges at the District and Circuit Courts may decide whether the remote proceedings are on evidentiary or non-evidentiary matters. However, the remote proceedings must be held under some stipulated guidelines as provided by the law. Some of the guidelines are as follows:

  • Though other options may be explored, Zoom for Government is the preferred platform for remote hearings by Maryland's trial courts.
  • Any platform the trial courts may use for remote hearings must have the following features:
    • Role-based user security
    • Encryption for the court proceedings
    • Password protection
    • A means of confidential communication between clients and their attorneys
  • The Judiciary records the remote hearings. This may serve as the official court recording.
  • Recordings by persons other than the designated court personnel are strictly prohibited.
  • Remote proceedings must follow the same standards as traditional courtroom hearings unless the Judicial Officer directs otherwise.
  • Maryland Court Rules must be adhered to while conducting all remote court trials.
  • The Judicial Officer may decide to delay or postpone a remote proceeding if there are technical difficulties that may lead to the trial's disruption. Examples of such technical challenges include audio and video issues and network glitches. As an alternative, the Judicial Officer may decide to require in-person appearance from the parties involved.
  • Any party who cannot participate in remote proceedings is expected to report to the court as promptly as possible.

What Is the Maryland Court of Appeals?

The Maryland Court of Appeals was established in 1776 and is the highest court in the State of Maryland. The Court is located in Roberts C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis, the State Capital. It is a discretionary appellate court in that it has the right to decide which cases to hear and decide. Justices in the Court of Appeals consist of one Chief Judge and six associate judges. They are usually selected by the appointment of the Governor of Maryland to 10-year terms.

What Is the Maryland Court of Special Appeals?

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is the appellate court of general jurisdiction at the intermediate level. It hears and decides appeals from the Circuit Courts. It has 15 judges, and at least one of the judges must come from each of the seven geographic appellate circuits in the state. Judges of this court are appointed by the Governor of Maryland to 10-year terms and may serve until age 70.

Maryland Circuit Courts

The Maryland Circuit Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. They have jurisdiction over criminal cases such as felonies with certain exceptions. They also hold jury trials where applicable. Judges are selected via general elections to 15-year terms and may serve till the age of 70.

Maryland District Court

The Maryland District Court is a trial court of limited jurisdiction. It has locations in each of the counties in the State of Maryland. It is mostly called by the name of the county in which it is located. An example is the District Court of Allegany County. Some of the civil cases that the District Court hears include domestic violence cases, landlord/tenant cases, and cases involving the recovery of goods claimed to be wrongfully taken (replevin). The District Court also decides criminal cases including motor vehicle/boating violations and other misdemeanors. Cases appealed from the District Court are mostly heard by the Circuit Courts with few exceptions where the appellate courts decide the appeals.

Maryland Orphans’ Court

The Maryland Orphans’ Court oversees the management of the estates of dead people who own properties to their sole names whether they leave wills or not. It has jurisdiction over the conduct of personal representatives and can also supervise the guardianship of such properties. In certain counties, the court may appoint the guardians of minors. There are usually three Orphans’ Court judges in the City of Baltimore and each of the counties in the State. Appeals from the Orphans’ Court goes to either the Circuit Courts or the Court of Special Appeals as the case may be.

Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings?

The Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) handles appeals regarding the decisions of executive branch administrative agencies unless otherwise exempted by the law. Such appeals to the OAH are decided by the Administrative Law Judge in an impartial review while having the appellant in attendance. The Administrative Law judges are based in the Baltimore area but may still hear cases from all around the state.

Maryland State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (443) 214-0372

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Maryland

Maryland’s Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse was first constructed between 1896 and 1900.

  • Maryland has 5 different courts: the Court of Appeals, the Court of Special Appeals, the Circuit Courts, the Orphans Court, and the District Court.
  • The Court of Appeals in Maryland is the highest court in the state. They have 7 judicial positions. It is located in Annapolis. 
  • The judges in the Court of Appeals are appointed by the Governor of Maryland and approved by the Maryland Senate. 
  • The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has 15 judicial position. It was created in 1966 as a result of increasing caseloads for the Court of Appeals.

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