There are advantages and disadvantages to having a case resolved in the Maryland juvenile courts. Cases resolved in juvenile court do not count as “convictions” and usually will not appear on an adult criminal record. The juvenile court is much more focused on rehabilitation than the adult court system. Therefore, if a child or teenager is charged as an adult with a serious offense, it may be advantageous to seek a transfer of the case to juvenile court. However, a juvenile court can “exercise jurisdiction” over a young person until age 21. And the options available to a judge to impose on the teenager or young adult are almost limitless. There is no defined “maximum” sentence that binds a judge’s power.
Most juvenile cases start with a young person being detained/arrested by a police officer and taken to a station. Attempts are made to locate and contact the parents. After some processing the juvenile is often released to a parent. If the case is serious enough, or there is no responsible person to take custody of the child, the child may be detained overnight at a juvenile detention facility. A hearing will be held in court on the next business day to decide if the juvenile should continue to be detained.
Before any “charges” are filed in juvenile court, the police report is usually reviewed by the local branch of the Department of Juvenile Services. That department will often try to arrange an “intake meeting” with the juvenile and his or her parents/guardians. It is important to consult with counsel before attending this meeting. The meeting will discuss, not only the specific incident described in the police report, but also the overall well-being of the juvenile. Many questions may be asked about otherwise personal topics: drug use, mental health history, sexual history.
If the police accuse the child of committing misdemeanors, the Department of Juvenile Services may offer the parents and child an opportunity to resolve the case “informally,” without referring the case to the prosecutor’s office for possible court involvement. Such a resolution may involve having the child perform community service, attend counselling, pay restitution, and other tasks that may be appropriate for the particular case or child. The Department of Juvenile Services may also decline to make such an “informal” offer and send the case for further review by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
If the police accuse the child of committing a felony, the Department of Juvenile Services is required by law to forward the case to the State’s Attorney’s Office for review, regardless of the Department’s recommendation about what should happen with the case. Once a case is referred to the State’s Attorney’s Office, it is likely that a petition will be filed in juvenile court to begin juvenile delinquency proceedings. The juvenile court can impose a number of sanctions that can include commitment to a Maryland juvenile facility, commitment to an out-of-state facility, probation, drug testing, drug treatment, psychiatric evaluations, electronically monitored home detention, and community service.
We believe that experienced counsel in juvenile court not only can help “fight” the case, but also help with getting the court system to work for the client. Juvenile courts are filled with many successful kids who were involved in some bad act. But juvenile courts also deal with many troubled kids who have ongoing issues preventing them from achieving success. Many good people work in the juvenile justice system who are available to help kids get back on the right track. Experienced counsel can help a client get access to certain important and helpful services that the client may otherwise not be aware of. An attorney can also guide a client away from programs that may be more trouble than they are worth.
Feel free to contact us to arrange a consultation by calling 301-251-9001. Or fill out our on-line consultation request form.