Maryland General Assembly considers changes to juvenile justice system

Under current law, there are more than two dozen offenses that can send minors to the adult justice system, including rape, murder, carjacking and firearms offences.

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Jabriera Handy told lawmakers she was coerced into confessing to second-degree murder as a teenager in order to have her case heard in juvenile court.

His grandmother suffered a heart attack and died during an argument with Handy. She was charged with second degree murder and first and second degree assault and was automatically placed in the adult criminal court system.

She was in first grade in high school.

“During that time, as a 16-year-old child, I hadn’t thought that an argument could have caused death or harm to anyone else, you know, when you say “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a Thursday briefing.

Handy spent 11 months in an adult prison. She reminded the committee of humiliating experiences: Her first interaction with an incarcerated adult was in the shower – she said the woman was on drugs. In another case, a naked Handy was forced to squat and cough in front of guards and other incarcerated people during his period.

After two unsuccessful waiver hearings, her case only finally went to juvenile court after she confessed that she was responsible for her grandmother’s death. Handy was then sent to a juvenile facility where she received therapeutic services.

His experience in the criminal justice system is not unique, but two bills introduced by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and heard by the Senate Committee on Legal Proceedings this week could change what justice will look like. procedures for minors in the future. :

  • The Juvenile Protection from Interrogation Act, or Senate Bill 53, would require police to contact a child’s legal guardian and allow them to consult with an attorney before being questioned; And
  • Senate Bill 165 would require defendants under the age of 18 – regardless of their alleged offense – to enter the criminal justice system through juvenile court.

Hearings on the House cross-border bills — Bill 269 and Bill 294 — are scheduled for next week and the week after, respectively.

Under current law, there are more than two dozen offenses that can send minors to the adult justice system, including rape, murder, carjacking and firearms offences.

Currently, such cases can be dropped until juvenile court, but the onus is on a juvenile’s defense attorney to prove why adult criminal court is not the right setting.

And there are racial patterns in which cases are dropped until the juvenile system, where rehabilitation is the focus, rather than punishment.

According to Jenny Egan, a juvenile public defender in Baltimore, 94% of cases for white children are transferred from criminal court to juvenile court, compared to 22% for black children.

“We know that black youth are arrested at higher rates, charged at higher rates and incarcerated at higher rates [and] sentenced more punitively than white youth, even though white youth report committing offenses at a higher rate,” she said.

The bill does not prevent minors accused of violent crimes from being tried in criminal court, but the state would have to prove why the case should be dropped, leaving the decision in the hands of a judge of the juvenile court.

The bill is based on a recommendation from the Juvenile Justice Reform Council, which was formed in 2019 to study inequalities and shortcomings in the juvenile justice system.

The council’s remaining recommendations will be presented to the General Assembly as an omnibus bill during this session.

According to Sam Abed, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services, charges against minors for violent and other crimes have declined over the past decade, in line with national trends.

According to Egan, in 1995, 25% of homicides were committed by minors.

“Last year it was less than 5% – statewide – of youth homicides – by children,” she said.

Committee Republicans found that hard to believe, pointing to the slight increase in homicides in Baltimore, which has seen more than 300 murders a year since 2015.

Sen. Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) pushed back against Abed, saying fewer charges are being brought against minors by police and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D).

“Would it be reasonable to expect minors to behave more holy than the rest of the population when it comes to criminality? Cassilly asked. “What you’re saying is that people over the age of 18 are engaged in a series of murders that have a record murder rate in Baltimore and under 18s have become angelic for some unknown reason over the last few years. last eight years.”

Abed replied that the reduction in complaints against young people has been “impressive”.

“I think there is a marked change in the behavior of children, absolutely,” he replied.