Whether caught egging a house or robbing a convenience store, minors who find themselves in front of a juvenile court judge face civil rather than criminal proceedings, although there sometimes is little difference in the outcome.
"The basic procedures are nearly identical. ... The big difference is there is no right to a jury trial in juvenile court," Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said.
Police might not press charges for an infraction deemed minor, but if they decide further action is required, a juvenile — younger than 18 years of age — can be taken before a Maryland Department of Juvenile Services intake worker, who will decide whether the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the juvenile act, according to the department's website.
Police have 30 days to file a complaint with the Department of Juvenile Services, Kessell said. The department then has 25 days to review the complaint and decide whether to file a juvenile petition with the State's Attorney's Office, Kessell said. The Juvenile Services Department also can opt not to file a petition, or impose a 90-day pre-court supervision, which can include restitution to a victim, community service or other consequences, he said.
"A complaint may be filed with DJS and we never hear about it," Kessell said.
If a juvenile petition is filed with the State's Attorney's Office, the case must be adjudicated within 60 days, he said.
The intake worker also could determine a child is a threat to commit another offense while awaiting adjudication and authorize emergency detention, the department said. In such cases, a hearing must be held the next working day to see if the juvenile will remain in detention, be released to a parent or guardian, or face community detention, which can mean the child wears an electronic monitor.
If the child is in emergency or community detention, the case has to be adjudicated within 30 days, Kessell said.
If a male juvenile from Washington County is detained while awaiting a court date, he most likely will be placed in the 24-bed Western Maryland Children's Center on Roxbury Road near Hagerstown.
Brian Hutchison, the supervising assistant public defender for juvenile petitions, said that is a round-trip of only a few miles for most families and attorneys needing to visit or confer with the juvenile. It's much different for detained females, who usually are sent to the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center in Rockville, Md., he said.
For Washington County residents, that can be a round trip of more than 100 miles for attorneys and family members, said Hutchison, who said he believed a detention facility for girls closer to Hagerstown would benefit detainees and their families.
Their day in court
"Adjudication is the same as the guilt or innocence phase in the adult system," Kessell said. A juvenile can tell the court that they were or were not involved in the incident and the state would have to be able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.
Other than not having a right to a jury trial, juveniles have all of the other rights of an accused adult, Kessell said. They have a right to an attorney, may call witnesses, and may choose to testify or to remain silent, he said.
A juvenile also may make an admission in court, the equivalent of a guilty plea.
For a youth found to be delinquent, options for the court range from probation to commitment to a residential treatment center, based on recommendations by the State's Attorney's Office, defense attorney and the child's Department of Juvenile Services caseworker.
At a residential treatment center, a juvenile can get counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health disorders and other issues, according to the department.
A minor who is 14 years old or older who is accused of a felony, such as armed robbery or first-degree assault, can be charged as an adult, Kessell said. Under those circumstances, the juvenile can request a reverse transfer hearing, which would send the case out of juvenile court and place it before a Circuit Court judge, he said.
After weighing several factors, a judge can order the case to remain in adult court, or transfer the youth back to juvenile jurisdiction, Kessell said.
The reverse transfer is a one-time deal if the juvenile is not remanded to juvenile court, said Reginald Garnett, who oversees residential operations for the Department of Juvenile Services. Once a transfer is denied, any future criminal charges against the juvenile will be handled in adult court, he said.
A defendant who is older than 18 when charged is always charged as an adult.