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In this week’s installment of our “Lawyer Says” series, our Criminal Defense team discusses who has the authority to issue and grant warrants in the state of Maryland.

The Question: In Maryland, can anyone besides a judge issue or grant a warrant?

Does anyone besides a judge have authority to issue a warrant?

The Answer: In certain instances, yes, someone other than a judge may issue a warrant. Search warrants can only be issued by a judge, but an arrest warrant is almost always granted by a district court commissioner.

Despite popular belief, judges are not the only court officials who can issue a warrant in Maryland.

Yes, judges have the authority to issue both arrest and search warrants. The bench is the highest position in the judicial branch of our government, so they hold the most control. However, since judges may be busy with trials or hearings, a court commissioner has the power to issue arrest warrants in order to ease the burden on a judge’s schedule.

In Maryland, commissioners are appointed by the Chief Judge of the District Court system. They are responsible for reviewing the statement of charges in a case to determine if probable cause exists for arrest, conducting initial hearings on arrested individuals, and determining an individual’s eligibility for a public defender.

Pretty much anything to do with an arrest is within a commissioner’s domain, and as such they’ve been given the authority to issue arrest warrants as needed. Additionally, unlike judges, the court system ensures that a commissioner is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. This availability accounts for the often spontaneous and urgent nature of arrests, allowing a warrant to be issued whenever needed.

On the other hand, search warrants are exclusively issued by judges. Per a 1971 Supreme Court ruling, a search warrant can only be issued by an unbiased and neutral judge or magistrate capable of determining whether probable cause exists. This essentially means that a law enforcement officer must prove to a judge that  a search of a property is “warranted,” similarly to how the parties in a criminal defense or divorce trial have to prove their argument.

So, to summarize, arrest warrants can be issued by both judges AND court commissioners, whereas a search warrant can only be issued by a judge.

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Our automatic disclaimer: We’re lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We’re providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual’s attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a “real” response!