TV shows and movies notwithstanding, it isn’t the victim or police officers who can press charges against you. Only a federal, state or municipal attorney acting as a prosecutor can decide to charge you based on evidence supplied by the police and a victim. Even if victims decide that they don’t want to press charges, it’s not in their hands. A prosecutor can charge others with crimes whether or not a victim cooperate.
Under Maryland criminal law, offenses, murder, manslaughter, and unlawful homicide have no time limit, or statute of limitations, under which you can be charged. Crimes like first-degree arson, second-degree murder, and tax-related offenses have a three-year limit. Misdemeanors like unlawfully using a driver’s license or child pornography typically have a two-year limit.
The most obvious way to find out if charges are being pressed is when you’re arrested, taken to the police station, and booked: your fingerprints are taken, among other requirements. You may be jailed to remain in police custody. You have a right to a criminal defense attorney, either your own or one assigned to you to represent your interests. You then appear before the judge may temporarily release you by setting bail or other terms. The judge tells you when to return for your next hearing. In the meantime, the police investigate the circumstances of your arrest and provide any evidence to the prosecutor. This process becomes part of your criminal record.
Before the Arrest
However, before the arrest, someone may have pressed charges against you, and the police are under no obligation to tell you if that has happened. If their investigation produces evidence of a criminal offense, it is the district attorney (DA)’s office who files a complaint and serves you notice to appear in court. The only way you’ll know about this is when papers arrive in the mail or a summons has been hand-delivered to you by another person.
To find out if any paperwork is coming to you in the mail, you can contact the local criminal court and ask the clerk if any pending cases, warrants, or court dates have been filed. This information is sometimes available online. In Maryland, you can find such court information at the Maryland Judiciary Case website by filling in a form and selecting the appropriate options.
Ask the Police
You can also contact your local police department to run a warrant check on you, which uncovers any charges filed against you. Keep in mind that you have no rights to be informed of an ongoing investigation. This ensures that you do not hinder the police from performing their duties and do not harass victims and witnesses.
You do have the right to see police reports so that you know what you are being accused of. If charges have been filed against you, you can ask for a copy of the police report through the DA’s office. This report contains such information as the names of all people involved, incident description, and date and place of the incident. Certain information may be redacted (blacked out) to protect the privacy of the person who brought the charges.