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When Are Juveniles Charged As Adults?

hammer-719066_960_720-300x225While it is not stated in any official statute or case law the primary purposes of the adult criminal system are punishment and deterrence of future crime. The term “corrections” is more of a euphemism than the actual truth, and a more accurate term for the agency that oversees the prisons would be the Department of Punishment. But regardless of what the state decides to call it, the bottom line is that prison and probation does not exist for the benefit of those convicted of crimes in the adult criminal justice system. Thankfully the same harsh reality does not apply to the juvenile criminal justice system. While it’s far from perfect, the juvenile criminal justice system was designed from top to bottom with the best interests of minor defendants in mind. The primary goals of juvenile system are treatment, care and rehabilitation of the defendants. This does not mean that judges and magistrates will shy away from imposing punitive conditions on a child in order to protect the public or deter future unlawful behavior, but the main goal is to help the defendants. For this reason it is extremely important for minor defendants and those that have recently turned 18 to do whatever it takes under state law to keep their cases in juvenile court, or transfer them away from adult court. Before the issue of transfer comes up it is important to understand the Maryland laws governing when a child can be charged as an adult in the first place.

All children ages 7 to 17 at the time of the offense in question are considered juveniles, but this does not mean that everyone within this age group will be charged as such. Under Maryland law there are certain statutory provisions that serve to exclude the juvenile court from original jurisdiction over a criminal case (original jurisdiction simply means where the case starts). Any child that is 14 or older and charged with a crime punishable by life in prison will be excluded from having their case heard in juvenile court. These cases (typically murder) will start out in the District Court, and then eventually make their way into the Circuit Court if the State decides to continue prosecution. The next set of exceptions applies to defendants that were 16 or older at the time of the alleged offense, if the offense falls under the statutory exclusion list. Maryland rule 3-804 lists several offenses that disqualify 16 and 17 year old defendants from being charged as juveniles. These defendants will be arrested and charged as adults, and their cases will be listed in the public casesearch database. State law requires that these defendants be housed in a separate facility from adult offenders, but if the child turns 18 while detained he or she will be sent to an adult jail unless a motion to transfer physical custody is filed by a lawyer or filed pro se.

There are numerous offenses that will disqualify a defendant from being charged as a juvenile, and all are either felonies or crimes involving firearms. Common disqualifying offenses are first-degree assault, armed robbery, carjacking and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. Second-degree murder, attempted murder and manslaughter are also excluding offenses. Any juvenile that is charged as an adult for one of these crimes will have the opportunity to argue that their case should be transferred to juvenile court. This process is called a reverse waiver transfer, and the motion must be filed within 30 days or it could be waived. Any defendant that is 16 or older and charged with first-degree murder is excluded from transfer, as well as any defendant who was previously transferred and adjudicated delinquent.

If your child or grandchild has been charged as an adult it is imperative to act quickly to assure he or she is never sent to an adult jail and also that the case can be transferred to juvenile court. The laws regarding these cases are complex and require detailed knowledge of the system. Benjamin Herbst is an experienced juvenile criminal lawyer that has successfully transferred serious felony cases involving firearms to from adult court to juvenile court. He handles robbery, armed robbery, assault and firearms offenses in all Maryland criminal courts, and is available seven days a week for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.