Published on 2/9/2023, 4:31:00 PM
Maryland Juvenile Justice Reform. What does it mean?
In April of 2022 Maryland Senate Bill 691 was passed. This bill contained sweeping reforms to Maryland's juvenile justice system. Many of these changes impact the eligibility of children for juvenile court action, the possibility of avoiding court at all, and limits on the length of the terms of juvenile probations.
Changes to children who can be charged as adults
One of the most major changes to Maryland juvenile laws is the new minimum age for juvenile action. Under the new Maryland juvenile laws, no child under the age of 10 can be charged with a juvenile offense. Children under 13 can only be charged with offenses that would constitute a "crime of violence" under Maryland statutes.
What is a crime of violence under Maryland Mandatory Sentencing Laws?
An exhaustive list of crimes of violence under Maryland law includes:
- arson in the first degree;
- manslaughter, except involuntary manslaughter;
- armed carjacking;
- sexual offense in the first degree;
- sexual offense in the second degree;
- use of a firearm in the commission of a felony
- child abuse in the first degree
- sexual abuse of a minor under certain circumstances
- home invasion
- assault in the first degree
This means that children under the age cannot be charged with any non-violent misdemeanor offenses including firearm possession or drug possession.
The Department of Juvenile Services can now informal additional cases
The Department of Juvenile Services serves an important role in screening juvenile cases, collecting information, and providing services to youth involved in the justice system. New laws will allow the Department of Juvenile Services to impose an informal adjustment to felony cases, a right which they did not have in the past. Intake officers may also employ informal adjustments without the consent of a victim, but only if they've made reasonable efforts to contact any victims.
What is an informal adjustment?
An informal adjustment is an administrative remedy to a delinquent act, wherein a youth is assigned to complete programming or partake in community based services in exchange for keeping certain delinquent acts outside of the juvenile court. If there's a victim of the delinquent act - they are always given the opportunity to appeal an informal adjustment for review by the presiding State's Attorney's Office.
In the past - this was only an option for an allegation of a delinquent act that would be a misdemeanor if committed by an adult. Now these informal adjustments can also be applied to cases involving certain non-violent felonies.
Juvenile Petitions may be returned to intake upon consent of the State, a juvenile, and the Department of Juvenile Services
A new mechanism, called a return to intake, has been created. This will allow certain juvenile cases to avoid prosecution if all of the parties agree upon a return to intake. There will be a pre-court supervision agreement along with Department monitoring of the terms of any return to intake agreement. This process will involve assessment and the implementation of services. This is different from a STET, because the matter will be wholly outside of the Court process.
Juvenile Bail Changes
It is common for juvenile cases to involve a detention hearing, similar to an adult bail hearing. Changes to these hearings include the requirement that the Court and Department consider a "risk scoring instrument" in their decision to detain a youth.
These risk instruments, or Detention Risk Assessment Instruments (DRAI) were commonplace before the most recent legal update; however, now they must be independently validated at least once within the last five years of their use.
There are additional changes to detaining youth charged with misdemeanors. This includes a new prohibition on detaining children charged with misdemeanors other than firearm possession, unless the child was adjudicated delinquent twice in the last twelve months.
Within 10 days after a decision to detain a child, the Department of Juvenile services must submit a plan to the Court for releasing the child into the community under these new changes, which is referred to as a "community release plan".
Juvenile Probation Changes
Juvenile Probations have been significantly shortened. If the most serious offense that a juvenile has been adjudicated to are a misdemeanor, the maximum initial length of probation would be up to six (6) months. This probation could be extended by three (3) month terms if there is good cause to do so, and the purpose for the extension is to complete rehabilitative programming. The maximum length of a juvenile probation for a misdemeanor is now one (1) year.
Juvenile Felony Probation changes
Felony juvenile probations now have a maximum initial length of one year. Additional three month extensions can be sought for the same reasons as above; however, the maximum length of a standard juvenile probation for a felony is now two (2) years. There is a process to extend past the two year maximum if there is clear and convincing evidence that there is good cause to extend, and an extension is in the best interests of a child.
Juveniles adjudicated delinquent to a crime of violence do not have these maximum juvenile probation timeframes.
Juvenile Probation violation changes
Juvenile probations have redefined their definition of probation violations. A child cannot be placed in a detention facility for a technical violation as well.
Juvenile Probations have new guidelines for violations. Technical violations are all violations except those involving:
- an arrest or a summons
- A violation of criminal prohibition
- A violation of no-contact / stay away orders
Changes to juvenile placements
Juvenile respondents aren't given jail sentences, instead they are placed in rehabilitative placements. Functionally, these are often schools or similar facilities that restrict the movement of children whom they board, feed, educate, and provide therapy to. Now the Court may not commit a child to the Department of Juvenile Services for an out-of-home placement for a misdemeanor, unless the charge is a handgun violation.
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