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Citizens’ Right to File Criminal Charges

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What steps can you take to enforce your rights if a crime is committed against you? When one falls victim to a crime, most people report the incident to the police, which is always an advisable first step. Usually, the police create an incident report, conduct an investigation, and file criminal charges against the perpetrator. But what if after hearing your story the police decide not to institute criminal charges, while you still believe that your case should go forward?

File Criminal ChargesOptions

There is another avenue to try: as a victim of a crime, you can go to the District Court commissioner in the county where the crime occurred and seek the institution of criminal charges against the perpetrator. Maryland is one of the few states that allows citizens to file criminal charges. Some of the other states which allow this practice are: Georgia, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The District of Columbia does not allow this practice, while Virginia is even more liberal than Maryland in this regard: it also allows private prosecutions.

To utilize this avenue you must go to a District Court commissioner and file an “Application for Statement of Charges.” A commissioner is a judicial officer, and at least one commissioner is available in each county 24/7. The Application is made in writing and should contain a description of the accused and the details of the crime (who, when, where, what, why, how). The commissioner then decides if there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to believe that the crime occurred under the criminal laws of this State and that the person you accused was the one who committed the crime.

File Criminal Charges: Probable Cause

If the commissioner finds probable cause, he or she then issues a charging document and either a summons for the defendant to appear in court at a later date or a warrant for the arrest of the defendant. Whether a summons or an arrest warrant is issued is at the discretion of the commissioner. The summons or warrant is then sent to law enforcement officers so that the defendant can be served with the summons or arrested with the warrant.

Once the commissioner issues the charging document, the charges cannot be withdrawn. The State’s Attorney may later review the statement of charges and may dismiss the charges if the attorney finds that they lack merit, otherwise the charges will be resolved by the trial court.

By Maya Kushner, Esq. and Marc Emden, Esq.

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