Basic Guide to Maryland Traffic Court

For more information, please feel free to review the Law Office’s basic guide to Maryland driving records.

The District Court of Maryland has jurisdiction over essentially all traffic offenses in Maryland, including all non-jailable moving violations and related violations.  All 24 of Maryland’s jurisdictions – Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Maryland’s 22 other counties – have at least one District Court location and many of the larger jurisdictions have two or more locations that hear traffic ticket cases.

The big divide in Maryland’s traffic tickets is between non-jailable or minor citations, and jailable citations. Non-jailable citations include most common-sense moving violations, most regulatory violations such as failing to update a driver’s license and the like. Jailable citations include driving while suspended/revoked, driving under the influence of alcohol, fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, failure to remain at the scene of an accident and several other major violations. In jailable tickets, one may NOT prepay the ticket and a prosecutor will appear in court to prosecute the case. If an officer issues only non-jailable tickets, one may generally prepay them according to a set schedule of fines and no prosecuting attorney will appear in court if the tickets are contested. Note that courts may generally assess fines up to $500.00 for motor vehicle violations in contested cases, sometimes more, notwithstanding the face value of a ticket.

Upon receiving a citation at a traffic stop, an accused motorist must sign the ticket acknowledging receipt of the ticket.  Not signing the ticket may result in an arrest.  Signing the ticket only acknowledges receipt of the ticket – nothing more, nothing less.  Maryland traffic tickets do not currently (July 2010) contain within the ticket a court date notice; this is different from the common practice in, for example, Virginia and some other states.

As of January 1, 2011, all recipients of non-jailable moving violations must affirmatively file a notice with the District Court of Maryland requesting a trial date or a hearing date or pay the citation. Failing to do so will result in a license suspension. This is an important change from long-standing prior practice. Once a court date is requested, the Court will set a trial date and mail a notice.

The court date notice from the District Court will list the name of the Chief Judge of the District Court; until 2015 that Chief Judge will continue to be the Honorable Ben Clyburn.  Judge Clyburn has a general administrative and leadership role but does not generally hear any tickets himself, even in Maryland’s capital Annapolis where the District Court maintains its headquarters. For the most part, judges hearing traffic cases will be residents of the jurisdictions where they preside, with allowance for judges going “on tour” occasionally both within their judicial district (1-3 counties, generally) and/or state-wide.

Under the Maryland Constitution, a traffic or criminal defendant has the right to face charges in the jurisdiction where the charges “arise”; Article 20 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights states “That the trial of facts, where they arise, is one of the greatest securities of the lives, liberties and estate of the People.”  This is one of a number of important rights of which a motorist accused of any motor vehicle offense should know; an attorney can assist in asserting this right properly.

In Maryland, some offenses are characterized as “moving violations” while others are not.  Moving violations carry one point or more under MD’s 12-point scale; a unsafe lane change carries one point while driving while revoked carries 12 points.  The Motor Vehicle Administration has authority to define which offenses are “moving violations” carrying one point only; one may review those designated “moving violations” at the Code of Maryland Regulations, section  Maryland’s Annotated Code defines the point assessment for serious motor offenses at Md. Ann. Code Transportation Article section 16-402 as follows (effective March 2010) (note: “this Article” refers to the Md. Ann. Code Transportation Article.)

1 point

(1) Any “moving violation” not listed below and not contributing to an accident: 1 point

Current list of 1 point moving violations as of December 26, 2011 under MD COMAR

  • (1) 13-919(f) —- Operating dump truck vehicle in excess of speed limits
  • (2) 21-103 ——- Willfully disobeying order/direction/summons of officer
  • (3) 21-106 ——- Unsafe operation of emergency vehicle
  • (4) 21-201 ——- Failure to obey instructions of traffic control device
  • (5) 21-202(c), (e), (k) — Failure to yield right-of-way
  • (6) 21-204 ——- Failure to obey a flashing traffic signal
  • (7) 21-204.1 —– Failure to obey a lane direction control signal
  • (8) 21-207 ——- Failure to yield right-of-way to a funeral procession
  • (9) 21-301 ——- Driving across center line/failure to drive on right side of roadway
  • (10) 21-302 —— Failure to drive on extreme right side of roadway
  • (11) 21-303 —— Improper passing/failure to permit vehicle to pass
  • (12) 21-304 —— Passing on the right when not permitted
  • (13) 21-305 —— Driving to the left of center of road where prohibited
  • (14) 21-307 —— Driving to the left in a no passing zone
  • (15) 21-308 —— Failure to drive in a designated direction on one-way roadway
  • (16) 21-309 —— Failure to drive on roadway in designated lane
  • (17) 21-311 —— Driving improperly on divided highway
  • (18) 21-312 —— Unauthorized entering/leaving controlled access highway
  • (19) 21-313 —— Driving on controlled access highway when prohibited
  • (20) 21-401 —— Failure to yield right-of-way at intersection
  • (21) 21-401.1 —- Failure to yield right-of-way at T intersection
  • (22) 21-402 —— Failure to yield right-of-way when making a left or U-turn
  • (23) 21-403 —— Failure to stop/yield at intersection/turn on highway
  • (24) 21-404 —— Failure to stop/yield right-of-way when entering highway
  • (25) 21-404.1 —- Entering highway from crossover without yielding right-of-way
  • (26) 21-405(e)(1)- Failure to make required lane change for stopped emergency vehicle
  • (27) 21-405(e)(2)- Failure to slow to reasonable speed while passing stopped emergency vehicle
  • (28) 21-502(a)(c)- Failure to stop/pedestrian crossing in crosswalk
  • (29) 21-504 —— Failure to exercise due care for pedestrian
  • (30) 21-508 —— Driving through in a safety zone
  • (31) 21-1124.1 — Use of a text messaging device while operating a motor vehicle
  • (32) 21-601 —— Using improper position/method when making a turn
  • (33) 21-602 —— Making a U-turn on curve/crest of a grade where prohibited
  • (34) 21-603 —— Start/move vehicle unsafely without giving adequate signal
  • (35) 21-604 —— Unauthorized turning/slowing/stopping without required signal
  • (36) 21-605 —— Failure to use hand/arm signal/signal lamp when required
  • (37) 21-606 —— Improper hand/arm signal to stop/turn/decrease speed
  • (38) 21-701 —— Failure to stop and proceed safely to railroad grade crossing
  • (39) 21-702 —— Failure to obey stop sign at railroad grade crossing
  • (40) 21-703 —— Failure to stop at railroad crossing when carrying passenger/cargo
  • (41) 21-704 —— Driving/moving heavy equipment vehicles on/across railroad crossing
  • (42) 21-705 —— Entering/emerging from alley/driveway/building without stopping
  • (43) 21-707 —— Failure to stop at stop sign/yield at yield sign
  • (44) 21-708 —— Failure to stop for livestock at livestock crossing
  • (45) 21-801 —— Exceeding speed limit/failure to reduce speed when required
  • (46) 21-801(a) — Driving at a speed not reasonable and prudent
  • (47) 21-801.1 —- Exceeding maximum speed limit by 1—9 miles per hour
  • (48) 21-802.1 —- Exceeding maximum speed limit by 1—9 miles per hour in a highway work zone
  • (49) 21-803.1 —- Exceeding maximum speed limit by 1—9 miles per hour in a school zone
  • (50) 21-804 —— Driving below minimum posted speed limit
  • (51) 21-804(c) — Driving limited speed vehicle on prohibited highway
  • (52) 21-805 —— Driving without/unauthorized use of slow moving vehicle emblem
  • (53) 21-805.1(a) — Driving without/unauthorized use of limited speed vehicle emblem
  • (54) 21-806 —— Driving school vehicle with passengers in excess of 45 miles per hour
  • (55) 21-901.1(b) – Driving motor vehicle in a negligent manner
  • (56) 21-903 —— Driving motor vehicle on highway while consuming alcoholic beverage
  • (57) 21-1101 —– Stop/park/leave vehicle unattended without removing key/setting brake
  • (58) 21-1102 —– Unsafe backing of motor vehicle
  • (59) 21-1103 —– Driving a motor vehicle on a sidewalk
  • (60) 21-1104 —– Driving a vehicle with view obstructed/not in control
  • (61) 21-1105 —– Open/fail to close vehicle door when unsafe
  • (62) 21-1106 —– Permit/occupy mobile home while being towed on highway
  • (63) 21-1108 —– Coasting downgrade in neutral with clutch disengaged
  • (64) 21-1109 —– Following within 500 feet/parking within 300 feet of fire apparatus
  • (65) 21-1110 —– Driving over unprotected fire hose without consent of fire department
  • (66) 21-1117 —– Driving in improper manner to cause skidding/spinning wheels/noise
  • (67) 21-1118 —– Failure to comply with school vehicle regulations
  • (68) 21-1119 —– Driving/attempting to drive snow emergency route without snow tires/chains
  • (69) 21-1120 —– Driving a vehicle while wearing headset/earphones/earplugs on/in both ears
  • (70) 21-1123 —– Driving a vehicle on a highway with unauthorized passengers
  • (71) 21-1124 —– Use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle
  • (72) 21-1124.2(c)(1)—Second or subsequent offense of using handheld telephone while operating a Class H vehicle with passengers
  • (73) 21-1124.2(c)(2)—Second or subsequent offense of using handheld telephone while licensed with a learner’s permit or provisional driver’s license
  • (74) 21-1124.2(d)(2)—Second or subsequent offense of using handheld telephone while vehicle is in motion
  • (75) 21-1125 —– Operating a low speed vehicle on unauthorized roadway/highway
  • (76) 21-1128 ——- Driving while operating unauthorized television/video equipment visible to the driver
  • (77) 21-1209(a)(2)—Failure to provide minimum 3 foot distance when passing a bicycle/EPAMD/motor scooter
  • (78) 21-1209(d) —- Failure to yield right of way to a bicycle/EPAMD/motor scooter in designated bike lane or shoulder
  • (79) 21-1302 —– Improper riding/transporting person/articles on motorcycle
  • (80) 21-1303 —– Improper operation of motorcycle on laned highway
  • (81) 21-1303.1(a)- Operating on unauthorized roadway/improper horsepower motorcycle
  • (82) 21-1304 —– Riding motorcycle while attached to another vehicle
  • (83) 21-1404 —– Failure to obey sign/signal/order direction at vehicle crossing
  • (84) 21-1408 —– Making a prohibited turn on vehicular crossing/crossover
  • (85) 21-1409 —– Failure to maintain posted minimum speed on a vehicular crossing
  • (86) 21-1410 —– Driving vehicle exceeding height/weight/width on vehicular crossing
  • (87) 21-1412 —– Violating special provisions while driving through tunnel

2 points

  • (2) Following another vehicle too closely
  • (3) Speeding in excess of the posted speed limit by 10 miles an hour or more
  • (4) Driving with an improper class of license
  • (5) Failing to stop for a school vehicle with activated alternately flashing red lights
  • (6) Any violation of § 21-1111 of the TR article (putting glass/refuse on highway/bridge/waters)
  • (7) Passing an emergency or police vehicle under the provisions of § 21-405(d) of the TR
  • (8) A violation of § 21-511(a) of this article
  • (9) Failure to stop a vehicle for a steady red traffic signal in violation of § 21-202 of this article or a nonfunctioning traffic control signal inviolation of § 21-209 of this article
  • (10) Operating a limousine in violation of § 21-1127(a) of this article

3 points

  • (11) Any moving violation contributing to an accident
  • (12) Any violation of § 16-303(h) or (i) of this title
  • (13) Any violation, except violations committed on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95), of § 21-1411 of this article (certain HazMat violations)

5 points

  • (14) Speeding in excess of the posted speed limit by 30 miles an hour or more
  • (15) Driving while not licensed
  • (16) Failure to report an accident
  • (17) Driving on a learner’s permit unaccompanied
  • (18) Any violation of § 17-107 of this article
  • (19) Participating in a race or speed contest on a highway
  • (20) Any violation of § 16-304 or § 16-305 of this title
  • (21) Any violation of § 22-404.5 of this article
  • (22) Speeding in excess of a posted speed limit of 65 miles an hour by 20 miles an hour or more
  • (23) Aggressive driving in violation of § 21-901.2 of this article

6 points

  • (24) Reckless driving

8 points

  • (25) Driving while impaired by alcohol or while impaired by a drug, combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol, or driving within 12 hours after arrest under § 21-902.1 of this article
  • (26) Turning off lights of a vehicle to avoid identification
  • (27) Failing to stop after accident resulting in damage to attended vehicle or property
  • (28) Failing to stop after accident resulting in damage to unattended vehicle or property
  • (29) Any violation of § 16-815 or § 16-816 of this title
  • (30) Failing to stop after an accident resulting in bodily injury or death
  • (31) Any violation of § 16-303 of this title, excluding § 16-303(h) or (i)

12 points

  • (32) Any violation of § 16-301, § 16-302, § 16-804, or § 16-808(a)(1) through (9) or (b) of this title
  • (33) Homicide, life threatening injury under § 3-211 of the Criminal Law Article, or assault committed by means of a vehicle
  • (34) Driving while under the influence of alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol per se, or while impaired by an illegally used controlled dangerous substance
  • (35) Any felony involving use of a vehicle
  • (36) Fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer
  • (37) The making of a false affidavit or statement under oath, or falsely certifying to the truth of any fact or information to the Administration under the Maryland Vehicle Law or under any law relating to the ownership or operation of motor vehicles
  • (38) Any violation involving an unlawful taking or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle under § 7-105 or § 7-203 of the Criminal Law Article, or §14-102 of this article

Most of the non-jailable offenses carry 1, 2 or 3 points. Jailable offenses range from 3 to 12 points in most cases. At 5 points the MVA will call a Maryland motorist in for a mandatory “point system conference” ; at 8 points the MVA will attempt to suspend a driver’s license and at 12 points a revocation is possible.  Points do not necessarily translate directly to insurance rates, but in general convictions for offenses that involve points in Maryland are more likely to have insurance ramifications.

Once a motorist comes to court in non-jailable cases, the motorist has three choices: guilty, guilty with an explanation or not guilty.  Upon a guilty/with explanation plea or a guilty finding, the court will make an inquiry in the motorist’s record and may, under some conditions, consider “probation before judgment” (PBJ) which prevents a conviction from being entered on the motorist’s record (and prevents points) so long as the motorist avoids citations for the next 6 months to a year or so.   Many motorists admit guilt, plea guilty but ask for leniency to obtain a PBJ.  In accepting a PBJ a motorist must explicitly give up the right to appeal “de novo” (from the beginning, a whole new trial) to Circuit Court, which appeal is permitted under the Maryland Rules of Procedure.

Relatively few motorists plead not guilty.  In not guilty pleas, the court will require the government’s witnesses to testify under criminal rules of procedure: proof beyond a reasonable doubt, no hearsay, defendant’s right to confront the accuser and cross-examine, etc.  The motorist may, but need not, testify.  Most judges will not hold it against a motorist that she pled not guilty in the event of a guilty finding, though I have encountered one judge that will do so in one jurisdiction in Maryland. UPDATE: I have encountered now two judges who will refuse to consider probation before judgment after a full trial and a guilty finding, both both such judges are at least open and clear about that policy and announce it at the beginning of the docket and again once they start taking trials. Most judges do NOT follow this policy; I remain a respectful critic of the policy insofar as I find it a failure to exercise case-specific discretion.

In the event that the court imposes a fine, the fine is usually due that day.  The court will ordinarily impose court costs and may also impose “special assessments” if required by law for the funding of certain public safety projects such as the Medivac helicopter.  In the event of a conviction, the defendant motorist has 30 days to ask for an appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal in the District Court, which causes the Clerk to bundle the file and send it to Circuit Court for a retrial of all charges resulting in conviction.

If a charge involves a theoretical possibility of jail, it is foolish to go to court without an attorney. Even if jail is not a practical likelihood, it is a far wiser practice to bring counsel to assist with negotiating any post-trial rights or procedures most effectively. In some cases, a motorist may have the right to a trial by jury and in some cases it may be wise to request a trial by jury for a number of different reasons. An attorney can assist with that tactical decision as well.

It’s a good idea to consider retaining counsel if:

1) you want your insurance rates kept lower (who doesn’t!?)

2) you drive for a living or your employer insists on a strictly clean driving record

3) your record has already suffered some damage, especially priors for the same or similar charges

4) you are nervous about your own ability to present your case well

5) you are facing even the slightest risk of jail, even theoretically

6) you are facing negotiations with a career-focused prosecutor

7) you want your day in court, but cannot afford to miss work and would like to send an attorney in your place (if permitted)

8) you were involved in an accident and the resolution of the ticket may affect the settlement or vice versa

9) you have a security clearance and have a duty to report the dispositions of your case to your employer and security clearance liaison.

Any of these reasons would be solid cause to consider retaining professional representation in traffic court in Maryland.