The court of appeals, the state's highest court, comprises a chief judge and six associate judges. Each is appointed to the court by the governor but must be confirmed by the voters within two years of appointment. Most criminal appeals are decided by the court of special appeals, consisting of a chief judge and 12 associate judges, selected in the same manner as judges of the high court; each case must be heard by a panel of at least three judges of the high court. All state judges serve 10-year terms.
In 1971, 12 district courts took the place of all justices of the peace, county trial judges, magistrates, people's courts, and the municipal court of Baltimore. District courts handle all criminal, civil, and traffic cases, with appeals being taken to one of eight circuit courts. Circuit court judges are appointed by the governor and stand for election to 15-year terms; district court judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate to 10-year terms. The city of Baltimore and all counties except Montgomery and Hartford have orphans' courts composed of two judges and one chief judge, all of them elected to four-year terms.
According to the FBI Crime Index for 2001, Maryland had a crime rate of 4,866.8 per 100,000 population, including a total of 42,088 violent crimes and 219,512 crimes against property in that year. Maryland has the death penalty, and 15 prisoners were being held under the death sentence as of 2003. The state executed 71 people since 1930, only three of whom were put to death between 1977 and 2003. There were 23,970 prisoners in state and federal prisons in June 2001, an increase of 1.1% over the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 432 per 100,000 inhabitants.