Your Child and the Juvenile Justice Court System

As a parent you receive a telephone call from the local police. You are told that your underage (17) child has been arrested for several or more crimes. Actually, under the juvenile justice court system, the very worst is that the court determines that your child has been involved in an incident. Your child has not been convicted as though a crime was committed. The records are confidential and to obtain them often requires your consent or, when your child turns 18 years of age, their consent is sufficient to obtain their records.

So if your child has been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, he or she is protected by the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the principles of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and other safeguards of due process of law. These protections afford you child a fair trial.

Let’s stop the discussion of due process and safeguards and go to the next steps of the juvenile process.

You will be told to go to the police station to pick up your child. There you are asked to sign a paper that lists the charges and states that you agree to bring your child to the Juvenile Court located at the Circuit Court, typically at the county seat or in Baltimore City.

Alternatively, you will be told to appear with your child at an administrative intake hearing. The hearing will involve parents, the child, and a Juvenile Justice employee often who is a social worker or staff trained in juvenile counseling matters. As of the date of this article, November 3, 2017, what is said by your child or by you as the parent is confidential. The statements made at an intake hearing cannot be used at the Circuit Court.

The purpose of this administrative intake hearing is for the social worker to gather information about your child in order to determine whether your child should be administratively placed in “no further action status” and with conditions such as to write a theme about the incident and explain how to avoid a repeat episode or other written paper that focuses on cause and effect of the episode. Also the social worker may suggest counseling or a drug education program and, again, depending on the charges, other appropriate effort.

Although you are hopeful that the juvenile process will end at this level, you need to know of other possibilities that may occur. The social worker is required to make one of three recommendations which include:

  • no further action
  • that the social worker recommends that the juvenile is moved on to circuit court for assessment and continuation of the process, or
  • that the recommendation is no further action, but the Assistant State’s Attorney decides to continue the process and have the juvenile attend a session of the Juvenile Court where the juvenile will be advised of his or her rights, the charges, the right to an attorney, and other important rights. This appearance may be avoided by the attorney entering his or her appearance with the court. The lawyer writes the court and says that I represent the juvenile.

The next step is that a hearing occurs where the process continues.

Due Process Rights -- There are numerous rights that the juvenile has and this is where involving an attorney is a good way to protect those rights for the child.

  1. Discovery: The attorney can request discovery (information) about the State’s case against the juvenile, such as the factual basis of the charges, the names of witnesses, and locations of where the alleged incident occurred.
  2. Investigation: Here the attorney investigates the case and the process may include visiting the scene, taking photographs of the scene, meeting with witnesses, obtaining and reviewing the police incident report, obtaining background information of the client (juvenile), developing a plan of strategies and providing the client with options. Some clients desire to have the case tried and others want to enter into a plea agreement. Let's assume that the client wants a trial. We then prepare the client and witnesses for trial. Often we do not have the client testify because it is our opinion that the Assistant State’s Attorney may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile was “involved'' (remember the juvenile court does not find the juvenile guilty but either “involved” or “not involved”). The Assistant State’s Attorney starts to present the case through testimony, including but not limited to:
    • police officers
    • alleged victim
    • other witnesses and
    • sometimes experts

After the Assistant State’s Attorney presents each witness’s testimony, the defense attorney then has the opportunity to cross examine the witness. There are also additional steps involved in the process. Upon the completion of the Assistant State’s Attorney's case, the defense counsel then has the opportunity to make a motion to end the case on the basis that the State has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the juvenile is involved. The defense counsel gives the reasons why the case should be dismissed. The opposing Assistant State’s Attorney has the opportunity to provide reasons why the case has been proven and that the juvenile was involved.

The judge in the case, called a “magistrate”, determines if the motion to dismiss should be granted and, if so, the matter ends. However if the Magistrate has the belief that the case against the juvenile meets the court’s standards, then the defense attorney will be required to put on its defense. The defense has its witnesses testify (and this may include the juvenile) and the Assistant State’s Attorney cross examines each defense witness. At the conclusion of testimony, the defense goes first to argue why the juvenile has not been shown to have been involved in the offense and the Assistant State’s Attorney argues why the State should prevail. The Magistrate decides either that the juvenile was involved or not involved.

If the Magistrate determines that the juvenile was uninvolved, was not involved, the process ends here. If however the juvenile is found involved, the Magistrate will impose a sentence. For severe cases the Magistrate may impose a sentence requiring the juvenile to enter a lock down facility. Sentences to a lock down facility usually are for juveniles who have either repeated previous serious offenses or is found to have committed an offense that resulted in serious bodily harm.

The disposition for first time juveniles involved in misdemeanors may be counseling, participation in an education program relating to a drug or alcohol offense, and community service. The number of hours of community service depends on the nature of the offense. Before trial, the Juvenile Justice Worker( a social worker or psychological trained persons) will interview the juvenile and, based on that interview, will make a recommendation to the Magistrate.

Many juveniles do not understand that after the juvenile enters the juvenile system, the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court actually can continue beyond age 18 and up until age 21.

For juveniles who commit very serious felony crimes, the Assistant State's Attorney may request that the juvenile be charged as an adult despite the fact that the juvenile is below the age of 18 years.

Fred Antenberg has, in the past 30 years, successfully represented juveniles in Howard County and surrounding counties in Central Maryland, although past success is not a guarantee of future success.

Call Fred Antenberg at 410 730 4404 for a Free Initial Consultation if you are the parent of a juvenile faced with an administrative intake hearing or appearance in Juvenile Court.