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Charged as an Adult in Maryland: Children in the Criminal Justice System

One of our attorneys and criminal defense specialist, Luke Woods, provides insight into a number of frequently asked questions surrounding children and criminal charges in Maryland.

“My child’s been charged as an adult, what does that mean?”

It means that your child (under the age of 18) was charged with a criminal offense and is being treated as if he or she was over the age of 18.  That means your child is subject to conviction, a criminal record, and incarceration in adult facilities, including the potential of being held in jail with adults while awaiting trial on those charges.

Usually, in the State of Maryland, when a child, defined as a person under the age of 18, is alleged to have committed a criminal offense, the child is charged by the police and the matter is given to an intake officer in the Department of Juvenile Services.  That intake officer meets with the child and the child’s family and makes a decision as to whether to treat the matter informally or to send the matter to the Office of the State’s Attorney in the county where the alleged offense happened. The State’s Attorney then files a Juvenile Petition laying out a series of allegations of “delinquent acts”, which is an act that would be a crime if the child were above the age of 18. Those allegations are resolved in Juvenile Court, a civil court that holds hearings similar to trials to determine if the child is responsible for the delinquent act, and whether the child needs guidance, treatment or rehabilitation.

With certain more serious offenses, primarily violent felonies or gun charges, a child is charged as an adult if he is over the age of 16, or sometimes over the age of 14 if the felony is serious enough, such as murder.  So, for instance, if a 17-year-old is charged with an Armed Robbery, he would be a child (under the age of 18) charged as an adult.  The charges would proceed as if the child were an adult, including arrest, arraignment, bond, preliminary hearing, a jury trial, and a conviction, jail sentence, probation, and criminal record if the child is found guilty.

“Why did the State charge my child as an adult?”

In many cases, it is the charges themselves that dictate how a child is charged.  Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article §3-8A-03(d)(4) lists out the specific offenses that, if charged, must be charged as an adult if the child is over the age of 16, including Abduction, Kidnapping, Second Degree Murder, Manslaughter, Second Degree Rape, Armed Robbery, Carjacking, Assault in the First Degree, Third Degree Sexual Offense, and other specified sex offenses and gun charges.  If charged with one of those offenses and the child is over 16, the charge issues and proceeds as an adult charge by statute, as the Juvenile Court does not have jurisdiction over that specified charge.

“What can I do if my child is charged as an adult? Can I get the case moved to Juvenile Court?”

A child charged as an adult may ask the court to move his case from adult court to Juvenile Court through a procedure called a “transfer hearing”, described in the Criminal Procedure Article § 4-202.  In making the determination, pursuant to Criminal Procedure §4-202(d), the court considers: (1) the age of the child, (2) the mental and physical condition of the child; (3) the amenability of the child to treatment in an institution, facility, or program available to delinquent children; (4) the nature of the alleged crime; and (5) the public safety. In balancing those factors, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence (which means more likely than not) that a transfer of the child to Juvenile Court would be in the interest of the child or society, the court may move the case to Juvenile Court.

A child charged as an adult may also request that a “transfer study” be ordered as soon as his first appearance before the Court, which requires that the Department of Juvenile Services complete a study of the child, the child’s family, and environment, that will aid the court in making a transfer determination.  The child charged as an adult may also request that he or she be held at a juvenile detention facility, as opposed to the local jail, pending the transfer hearing.

“What happens if the Court decides not to transfer my child to Juvenile Court, is he stuck being treated as an adult?”

If a child charged as an adult loses the transfer hearing, his case remains in adult court.  However, if the child goes to trial and is found not guilty on all the charges that brought him into adult court to begin with, or if the child pleas to a something other than the charges that brought him into adult court, the child has a right to a second transfer hearing at sentencing, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Article § 4-202.2, subject to the same transfer considerations.

“Can I stop worrying if my child is transferred to Juvenile Court, or if he started in Juvenile Court to begin with?”

Juvenile Court carries a different set of issues and concerns, but a high hurdle is jumped if the case is transferred to Juvenile Court.  Ultimately in cases of children charged as adults, it is best to seek counsel that has specialized training and significant experience in Juvenile Court and transfer hearings to navigate between adult court and Juvenile Court effectively.

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