What Happens When a Juvenile is Charged With a Crime?

Finding out that your son or daughter has been arrested or charged with a crime is something no parent should have to go through.  With that being said, it is important to understand what happens next so you can assure that your child’s rights and future are protected.  The Maryland juvenile criminal justice system can be confusing, as there are a ton of different procedural steps as a case travels from arrest to resolution.  This post will serve as a general overview of the most important concepts regarding juvenile justice, and we welcome anyone with more specific questions or concerns to call us anytime.  Benjamin Herbst is an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney in Maryland, and handles all types of charges every jurisdiction in the state.  He is available at 410-207-2598 seven days a week.

For the purposes of the criminal justice system a juvenile is anyone under the age of 18 at the time the alleged offense was committed.  Even if the defendant is arrested or charged after their 18th birthday they will be treated as a juvenile if the incident happened when they were 17 or younger.  Most juveniles that are charged with a crime are issued a juvenile citation and then held at the police station until a parent or guardian comes to pick them up.  The juvenile citation will typically include a summons to appear at an intake hearing in the county where the offense occurred or in Baltimore City.  The intake hearing is an informal meeting between a DJS officer, the defendant and his or her family.  One of three things can happen at the intake hearing including closing of the case and basically issuing a warning, which is the best outcome.  The second best outcome is when the officer agrees to keep the case and place the juvenile on informal supervision for 90 days.  The juvenile may have to complete community service and report to the office a few time, but the benefit is that the case does not do to court unless the terms of the informal supervision are violated.  Finally, the officer may forward the case to the State’s Attorney’s Officer for formal prosecution.  

If the case is forwarded to the State’s Attorney’s Office a prosecutor must then decide whether to file a petition.  A juvenile petition is a charging document similar to a criminal information or an indictment, but the word criminal is not used and the defendant is actually referred to as the respondent.  The petition will lay out the charges and list the state’s witnesses, as well as make a claim for any restitution.  Under Maryland law the state may seek up to $10,000 in restitution from the juvenile’s guardian for payment of medical expenses to the alleged victim (typically in assault cases), property damage or to replace stolen items in theft cases.  Once a petition is filed the juvenile will be ordered to appear for an initial appearance or arraignment, and then the case will be set for an adjudication or delinquency hearing within 45 days.  These hearings are similar to a trial in adult criminal court, as the state must prove delinquency beyond a reasonable doubt, but there is no right to a jury trial.

In Maryland not all defendants under the age of 18 are prosecuted in juvenile court.  There are numerous crimes such as assault in the first degree and robbery that must start out in adult court according to the law.  If a juvenile is charged with one of many felony offenses he or she will be arrested and charged as an adult.  If bail is denied the juvenile will be held at a secure adult facility, though separated from adult prisoners, and held until a motion to transfer physical custody or other motion is filed.  In these felony cases the first priority after arranging to have the juvenile released is arguing to have the case waived down to juvenile court.  The reverse waiver procedure requires a few steps such as the completion of a transfer study by DJS, and all in all could take a couple months from the time it is filed, but it must be filed within 30 days or it could be waived.  The reverse waiver hearing could be the last shot to have the case heard in juvenile court, so it is extremely important to be prepared and put a strong argument together.  Do not make the mistake of being unprepared for this hearing or any other hearing in a juvenile case, and contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
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