Michael Wilson, clad in a blue plaid shirt and corduroys, stood before Prince George's District Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. yesterday morning and fidgeted as the court clerk read the charge against him.

Wilson was in court for allegedly trespassing, essentially for turning his car around in the driveway of his New Carrollton neighbor.

Wilson's attorney, Kenneth A. Lechter, looked confident that his client would get off clean. He was right, almost.

Assistant State's Attorney Michelle Hotten agreed to place Wilson's case on the stet docket, meaning the charge will be dropped after a year if Wilson stays out of trouble and abides by court orders -- in this case keeping out of his neighbor's driveway.

"People ask me how can you have a criminal case on Christmas Eve," Lechter said. "I say I can't think of a better time." And neither could 21-year-old Wilson.

"Oh yeah," Wilson said after the hearing. "I'm a lot happier now than I was yesterday. I'd love to go say 'Merry Christmas' to my neighbor . . . but you know how it is."

Wilson had his day in court on Christmas Eve, a day when judges and prosecutors sometimes feel a bit of compassion, when lawyers seem more confident of getting clients off and when defendants hope they get a break from a judge who just might be filled with the holiday spirit.

And it's a good time for defendants to try out excuses, holiday-related excuses.

Donald F. Tynes of Oxon Hill, charged with assault and battery, came to court without his attorney.

"I had an attorney, but she's apparently out of town for Christmas," Tynes told the judge. "Her secretary called me last night and said she's out of town." Tynes' case was continued.

Nichols, 38, the junior member of the county's District Court, was appointed to the bench July 30 by Gov. Harry Hughes. Nichols spent seven years as an Orphan's Court judge and also served as a District Court commissioner.

"This is a hard job, but it gets a lot harder on Christmas Eve, especially for the sentimental types," Nichols said.

Most of the cases before Nichols yesterday were assault and battery, trespassing and a few motor vehicle violations -- not the sort of charges that, in the normal course of District Court operations, draw stiff penalties.

But yesterday Nichols took more time than usual explaining options to defendants and to those who had pressed charges, often with the hope of keeping the defendants out of jail on Christmas day.

Gregory Howard of Hyattsville, for example, wanted to plead guilty to charges of assault and battery and destruction of property.

"Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Nichols asked Howard. "I don't want you going to jail on Christmas Eve unless you have to."

Howard didn't have to go to jail. His case, like many of those on the docket, were placed in the one-year inactive file on the condition that Howard avoid contact with the person who pressed charges against him and that he make restitution of almost $5,000.

By 11:30 a.m., there was only one defendant waiting to face Nichols.

David Carter, 19, had spent six days in the County Detention Center on a charge of possession of marijuana.

"I'd like to be home with my family for Christmas," Carter told Nichols.

"I know you would," Nichols answered. "There isn't another holiday coming up that would give you the benefit of the doubt."

Nichols placed Carter on supervised probation for two year, ordered him to undergo drug counseling and periodic drug testing and to reimburse the public defender's office $275.

Then, Nichols ordered Carter to be released from custody.