Baltimore City

Maryland criminal and civil trials suspended until at least January, although many court functions continue

The Maryland Court of Appeals announced Thursday that all criminal and civil trials — except those in which a jury already has been seated — will be suspended until at least January, although some court functions will continue to operate on a limited basis.

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued the order as the state and nation continue wrestling with a surge in coronavirus cases. Maryland’s courts shut down on March 16 and operated in a very limited fashion until Oct. 5, when Barbera allowed jury trials to resume.


Thursday’s order, titled, “Re-imposing the Statewide Suspension of Jury Trials,” does allow for the continuation of grand juries that are already in session, and said grand juries may continue to operate “at the discretion of the administrative judge” in each jurisdiction.

The new rules limit both district and circuit courts statewide, though clerk’s offices will remain open to the public. Under Thursday’s order, district courts will continue to be open for some criminal and traffic cases, along with some civil actions and can handle landlord and tenant cases in a limited capacity


The decision scales court operations back to Phase 3 from Phase 5. Just a month ago, the judiciary had resumed full operations under Phase 5, which included including jury trials while following health protocols set in place statewide.

In Baltimore, city courts opened primarily with trials for lower level crimes, and more serious cases such as murder already were being delayed until well into the new year.

Civil cases allowed to continue in circuit courts would include settlement hearings, attorney disciplinary hearings and motions requiring witness testimony. Additional criminal cases in circuit courts would be limited to motions, expungements, violations of probation, non-jury trials, and sentencings previously deferred, under provisions of the order.

“After consultation with the leadership of the Maryland Department of Health and Judiciary leaders, I have determined that the Maryland Judiciary must return to restricted operations as described in Phase III in response to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland,” Barbera said in a statement. “The health and safety of the public, judges, and Judiciary staff remains a top priority, and we will continue to monitor the COVID-19 health emergency and adjust Judiciary operations as necessary.”

The state court’s announcement comes on the heels of federal courts in Maryland announcing their closure to the public starting Monday and lasting for at least two weeks.

Maryland reported 1,477 new cases Thursday along with 12 deaths tied to COVID-19. The state has now confirmed 1,000 or more new cases for nine straight days.