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District Court Division

 

Each year, thousands of citizens walk through the doors of the District Court for Howard County, located in Ellicott City. The primary purpose of the District Court Division of the State’s Attorney’s Office is to prosecute the vast majority of criminal cases initiated in Howard County.   Currently, the District Court Division handles over ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­18,000 criminal charging documents and serious traffic citations each year. 

On any given day, the criminal docket deals with assault cases, possession of drugs or alcohol, theft, harassment, stalking and malicious destruction of property just to name some of the more common offenses.

The serious traffic docket includes offenses such as drunk driving, hit and run, and driving with a suspended or revoked license. The office is committed to the aggressive prosecution of Driving While Under the Influence (DUI) cases. Cases are not downgraded unless they cannot be proven. The office routinely files a Subsequent Offender Notice whenever a defendant has a prior DUI conviction. This allows the assistant state's attorney to request an enhanced penalty for the offense. The office not only pursues sentences to punish offenders but also to seek treatment and rehabilitation when appropriate.  

Attorneys in the District Court spend the majority of their time in the courtroom.  They are assigned to a designated courtroom and are responsible for handling all the cases on that docket.  There are currently seven full-time and three part-time assistant state's attorneys on staff. The prosecutors are responsible for the preparation and prosecution of the cases.  Another indispensable component of the Division is the administrative support staff, responsible for setting up case files, data input, running criminal and traffic records, summonsing witnesses, counseling victims, reviewing police reports and charging documents, attending office meetings and trainings as well as any necessary paperwork associated with case management.

 To reach the District Court Division of the Howard County State's Attorney's Office, call 410-313-3100. 

 Board of Education Liaison 

The State’s Attorney’s Office is committed to working with Pupil Personnel Workers (PPW) from the Howard County Board of Education in truancy cases. Our office becomes involved in the criminal ramifications as a result of a severe truancy problem.  This office prepares, files and prosecutes the criminal charges against the parent.

 

Clifton T. Perkins Liaison 

The State’s Attorney’s Office works with representatives of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center to screen criminal cases occurring in that institution. Occasionally, this mental facility has incidents of a patient assaulting another patient or assaulting an employee of the hospital.

 

Drug and Alcohol Diversion Program  

The Drug and Alcohol Diversion Program of the State's Attorney's Office was created to reduce the amount of time and effort spent in trying comparatively minor drug and alcohol cases, thus saving limited resources for more severe criminal cases. The program provides substance abuse education or treatment intervention by addressing the behavior associated with drug use and, an opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction or jail sentence.  

This program handles only first time offenders 18 years of age and older who are charged with simple possession of marijuana or minor alcohol offenses. It is designed to give offenders the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction or a jail sentence.  Driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence cases are not included in the program.

After an eligibility screening, the accused are offered the chance to accept drug or alcohol education or treatment. If they do, then cases are removed from an active criminal status and made "inactive." Upon successful completion of the program, the case is dismissed, thereby allowing the accused to clear his or her police and court records. If the accused does not successfully complete the program, the case is made active and scheduled for trial.  

By diverting appropriate cases into treatment, the program improves the operational effectiveness of the court process by providing early diagnosis of drug and alcohol related problems, providing education or treatment for those problems and offering an alternative to incarceration for the accused who pose no danger to the community.

To guarantee a high quality of service to Diversion Program participants, the State's Attorney's Office holds periodic meetings with treatment providers and other agencies that provide services to participants.  

In 1995, the Howard County Police Department began targeting underage drinking in an effort to reduce this growing problem. In addition to increased enforcement, the police wished to increase communication between state and county agencies and to provide education to parents, teens and the community. The State's Attorney's Office, working with the Howard County Police, the Department of Corrections, the Sheriff's Department and the Health Department, created the Alcohol Citation Diversion Program. This program expanded the scope of the Diversion Program by not only providing drug and alcohol education but adding a community service component in order to have offenders "give back" to the community. In addition, the Diversion Program has been identified as an innovative initiative and has received several certificates of recognition from the County.

 

Bad Check Restitution Program  

In an effort to combat this serious problem, the State's Attorney's Office has organized the Bad Check Restitution Program to assist local merchants with bad check losses. The primary goal of the program is to obtain full restitution for the victim without adding to the financial burden of the criminal justice system. 

The Bad Check Restitution Program operates in conjunction with American Corrective Counseling Services which works between the private and public sectors. Merchants in Howard County benefit because they receive restitution without paying any collection fees. First time bad check offenders are given the opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution by attending a mandatory, eight hour intervention class, in addition to paying restitution. All of this is accomplished without any cost to the taxpayers.

Checks ineligible for the State's Attorney Bad Check Restitution Program may be pursued via small claims court process or by a private collection agency.

 

 

Citizen Charging / Screening Program 

Usually a person is charged with a crime as a result of police observations or a police investigation. In Maryland, a citizen may charge another citizen with a crime without any police involvement. This is accomplished by going to see a District Court Commissioner and preparing an application for a Statement of Charges.

If the commissioner determines that is sufficient probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, a Statement of Charges will be issued. We attempt to review these citizen initiated cases as quickly as possible through our Citizen Screening Program. 

The screening program operates out of the District Court Division. The purpose of the screening program is twofold: to gather more information from the victim about the incident and explain the criminal process to them; to evaluate the case and determine if it should proceed to trial. 

When a citizen appears before a District Court Commissioner to initiate criminal charges against another person, they are given a letter by the commissioner instructing them to contact the State's Attorney's Office within five (5) days. At that time they must schedule an appointment to meet with a prosecutor to discuss the facts of the case. If the complainant fails to make an appointment or does not appear for their appointment, the case is dismissed by the State's Attorney's Office.

At the time of the screening appointment, the prosecutor will discuss in detail the entire incident with the victim, gathering more information if necessary. After the screening is complete, the prosecutor has the discretion to allow the case to go forward where it will be reviewed again by the assigned prosecutor at the time of the trial or to dismiss the case at that time. 

All citizen initiated cases must come through the screening program except for bad check cases, domestic violence cases and felonies.

 

DUI/Drug Court   

During Fiscal Year 2005, the DUI/Drug Court was initiated in Howard County. This program fosters partnerships between prosecutors, defense attorneys, case managers and law enforcement along with alcohol/drug treatment professionals. 

The DUI/Drug Court is a distinct court system dedicated to changing the behavior of alcohol/drug dependant offenders arrested for DUI and drug-related offenses. The goal of the DUI/Drug Court is to protect public safety by attacking the root cause of DUI: alcohol and other drug abuse. The Howard County DUI/Drug Court Team uses a team-oriented approach to systematically change participant behavior. This approach includes identification and referral of participants early in the legal process to a full continuum of drug/alcohol treatment and other rehabilitative services. Compliance with treatment and other court-mandated requirements is verified by frequent alcohol/drug testing, close community supervision and interaction with the judge in bi-weekly court review hearings. 

The  DUI/Drug Court goal is to substantially reduce alcohol and drug-induced criminal recidivism while offenders are in the program and allow for a lifetime of substance-free living, enhancing the quality of life for both the offender and the Howard County community. 

This program is currently offered in District Court.  

 

Domestic Violence 

The Howard County State's Attorney's Office recognizes that domestic violence is a significant problem in America, and Howard County is no exception.

To reduce and eventually end this tragedy, this Office is committed not only to eliminating an abuser's criminal behavior, but to educating victims of domestic violence about the community resources available to them. 

The Domestic Violence Unit handles both misdemeanor and felony cases involving intimate partner relationships (married, dating, living together, or child in common). It is comprised of committed staff members that provide support and resources to victims of abuse and to the thorough investigation and prosecution of domestic violence cases.

Our Office maintains a "pro-prosecution" policy aimed at holding abusers accountable for their actions and recommending appropriate sentences. However, proceeding to trial, although preferred, is not always the best solution.  Complex and emotional issues surround each domestic violence case. The prosecutor has discretion to weigh the facts and circumstances of each case, including victim and community safety, and seek the appropriate outcome. 

It must be remembered, though, that successful criminal prosecution depends in large part upon the willingness of victims to report domestic violence crimes and then to testify against their abusers. Many victims who report domestic violence are reluctant to prosecute the abuser when the trial date arrives. The Office of the State's Attorney utilizes the expert services of its Victim/Witness Assistance Unit to gain cooperation from domestic violence victims. We also collaborate with the Howard County Domestic Violence Center on cases in addition to supporting and assisting their efforts in working with our community. The Domestic Violence Center also provides "The New Behaviors Program", where offenders are referred to help them change their behavior and deal with anger more appropriately. 

Office personnel, prosecutors and victim advocates all continuously update their knowledge and skills by attending seminars and workshops addressing domestic violence issues. We also seek cooperation with all agencies, public and private, to provide services to victims of domestic violence and assist those victims in receiving support services.