Articles Posted in Juvenile Crimes

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annapolis-237078_960_720-300x195The 2024 Maryland legislative session is roughly two months away, but there are already signs that juvenile justice will be a hot topic when lawmakers report to Annapolis in January.  The Maryland House Judiciary Committee has already held multiple juvenile justice fact-finding meetings in advance of the legislative session and may hold others before the end of this year.  The meetings come in response to increasing outcry by the public, law enforcement and State’s Attorney’s Offices.  Many have been critical of recent changes to juvenile justice policies that limit who the police can arrest, detain and interrogate.  While there is no proven correlation between juvenile justice reforms and a rise in crime, many believe reform has directly contributed to skyrocketing carjackings, shootings and violent assaults committed by those under the age of 18.

One of the most impactful juvenile justice reforms has virtually eliminated juvenile interrogations in Maryland.  Anytime a juvenile suspect is arrested the police are required to allow the suspect to speak to an attorney before answering questions.  Many people are under the impression that police must seek permission from parents or guardians before speaking to a juvenile suspect in custody, but this was never the law in Maryland.  Police were simply required to read Miranda warnings to the suspect before engaging in an interrogation like they would with an adult suspect.  This presents numerous issues regarding a free, knowing and voluntary waiver of Fifth Amendment rights that is required for statements to be admissible.  It is argued that juveniles rarely understand the rights they are waiving, and thus cannot make a legally sufficient waiver.  This is especially true when the juveniles are under duress and face intimidation by law enforcement.  The legislature agreed, and now juveniles are rarely if ever advised to make statements.  Criminal interrogations were once the strongest law enforcement tool to locate co-defendants in juvenile cases and to solve past and even future crimes.  A large percentage of juvenile crimes involve multiple co-defendants, as teenagers spend most of their time out of the home with friends or classmates.  Since the summer, police officers investigating juvenile crimes have been forced to rely solely on evidence gathered at the crime scene, and through talking to witnesses that agree to cooperate.  As such, it’s no surprise the reforms have been blamed for the increased amount of felony juvenile criminal activity in Maryland.

Another recent reform that could face further scrutiny is the law prohibiting police from arresting a juvenile under the age of 13 for a non-violent crime.  We previously posted on an 11-year-old that was suspected of stealing multiple cars in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.  Critics of this provision believe any type of criminal activity can ultimately lead to violence, and not prosecuting young juvenile defendants for serious crimes establishes a harmful precedent.  The Blog will continue to follow juvenile justice policy as we head toward the next legislative session.  Rising juvenile crime rates will be a top priority for lawmakers as soon as they report to Annapolis, but it is unclear whether any of the reforms will be walked backed after just one year in effect.

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Gun-evidence-box-300x225Montgomery County Police recently arrested a 17-year-old high school student for various firearm offenses after he was found in possession of a loaded 9mm handgun on the public school’s campus.  The student, who lives in Bethesda, was charged with possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of a loaded handgun and possession of a dangerous weapon on school property.  School security was tipped off by a fellow student, who apparently observed an object that looked like a gun in the defendant’s backpack while in the restroom.  Montgomery County police officers confronted the suspect and ultimately performed a search that yielded the handgun.  This all occurred around the same time that police were responding to two false bomb threats that locked other county schools down.  Upon being arrested, the student was taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center and was held without bail.  As a detained juvenile, his bail will likely be reviewed in two weeks if he is still in custody.  In the meantime, he will be held in a secure juvenile facility.   We are unable to track the progress of this case because the judiciary seals all juvenile cases from public view, but depending on his record and his representation, he may have a good chance at eventually facing trial in the juvenile court and avoiding an adult criminal record.

The student was charged as an adult because Maryland juvenile courts do not have original jurisdiction over gun crimes committed by defendants 16 or older.  This includes all firearm offenses from misdemeanor possession of a firearm by a minor to felonies such as armed robbery and possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.  Other crimes that start in adult court include first degree assault, vehicle and boat offenses, robbery with a dangerous weapon and felony sex offenses.  These cases may be transferred to juvenile court upon a motion that must be filed within 30 days.  While a transfer motion is pending a detained juvenile defendant shall be held in a juvenile facility unless there is no space, and the Court finds the juvenile to be a danger.  If the reverse waiver transfer motion is granted, the juvenile will immediately be scheduled for a detention hearing and may be released to his or her parents at that point.

Minors who are charged with gun offenses including misdemeanor unlawful firearm possession can, and often are, held in jail without bail in Maryland, which makes it extremely important to retain an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer.  Judges from certain jurisdictions such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County are less inclined to release juveniles with firearm charges due to the ongoing gun violence in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metro areas.  If your son or daughter has been arrested for a gun offense anywhere in the state, contact Maryland juvenile lawyer Benjamin Herbst 7 days a week for a free consultation.  Benjamin specializes in juvenile gun crimes and represents clients in all jurisdictions from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.  He has extensive experience representing juveniles charged with minor in possession of a firearm, robbery and first-degree assault.  Benjamin has obtained the release of clients at numerous juvenile bail reviews and has prevailed in reverse waiver hearings for serious felony offenses such as carjacking and armed robbery.  He fights tooth and nail to protect his client’s futures from intake hearing to trial and to make sure they are home with their families and not placed in a state program.  Contact Benjamin anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598 to discuss the defenses that may be available in your child’s case.

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prison-300x201Last year Maryland lawmakers passed the Child Interrogation Protection Act, which requires law enforcement to provide detained juveniles access to a lawyer before being questioned.  All detained suspects are afforded the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney under the United States Constitution, but juvenile defendants are especially vulnerable to being pressured into the waiving their right to remain silent and their right to counsel.  Prior to the law passing, juvenile defendants were still required to be read their Miranda rights before any custodial interrogation could begin, though it became increasingly clear that many did not understand their rights and were convinced there was no other option than to speak to police.  In response to an overwhelming number of false confessions in juvenile cases, lawmakers voted in 2022 to require police to put detained juveniles into contact with a lawyer before commencing questioning.  Per the new law, which went into effect almost one year ago, it is a lawyer, either in person or over the phone, who must advise a juvenile of his or her Miranda rights and not a police officer.  Violations of this law would lead to any statements being suppressed, but it appears some law enforcement agencies are undeterred, and continue to press juveniles for information before a lawyer can be reached.

According to reports, there were at least ten incidents where detained juveniles did not speak to lawyers prior to questioning during the month of July in Baltimore City.  There is logical suspicion that dozens more juveniles were questioned without speaking to an attorney over the summer in Baltimore City.  Violations are also suspected to have occurred in Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County, Allegany County and Garrett County.  Law enforcement may feel empowered to ignore the Child Interrogation Protection Act because a number of elected State’s Attorneys have publicly bashed the law for hindering their officer’s ability to solve crimes.  The Baltimore City SAO called the new law a barrier to solving crime and the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney described the law as a problem due to juveniles being less inclined to offer essential information to solve crimes.  The Wicomico County State’s Attorney has also been highly critical of the law, which specifically limits police to solve crimes that involve gangs and multiple co-defendants.

Juvenile crimes are unique in that they often occur with multiple witnesses and are routinely committed by numerous individuals.  Young people rarely do things alone, and therefore when a crime is committed there is usually a trail of evidence.  While police can ultimately subpoena cell phones and social media accounts for this evidence, when time is of the essence there is nothing quicker (or easier) than a scared young detained suspect spilling his or her guts to the police.  The problem is that juveniles are roughly three times more likely to give false confessions to adults, and we simply cannot stand by and watch as police shove a piece of paper in front of a 15-year-old for a signature or give a 20 second speech and assume there is a free and knowing waiver of the right to remain silent and the right to counsel.
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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Baltimore County Police have reported a 542% increase in juvenile motor vehicle thefts this year compared to last year, with some of the offenders being as young as 12 years old.  The trend is especially concerning to police because the vehicles are often used to commit other offenses such as robbery, burglary and theft and even murder.  Surveillance cameras affixed to street lights, business and home doorbells are a powerful law enforcement tool to track vehicles that are involved in crimes, but if the cars are stolen these leads will often turn up empty.  Hyundai and Kia vehicles from the end of the last decade have been a prime target for these thefts due to their lack of electronic immobilizers, but detectives from the auto theft task force have been adamant that almost all cars are at risk.  It’s often as simple as a person leaving the keys in vehicle, as would be thieves often try to open dozens of car doors before finding an easy target.  Auto theft detectives have expressed frustration over the Maryland juvenile criminal system, as young car thieves are routinely released from custody almost immediately.  In their opinion this has led to a rash of repeat offenses, because there is little deterrent to continuing to commit theft crimes.

The rise in juvenile car thefts is not limited to Baltimore County, as theft and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle are common juvenile offenses all over the state of Maryland.  Just last week four teenagers were arrested theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in Charles County.  As is the normal course of non-violent juvenile cases, the teens were set to be released to guardians, but it turned out that the guardians showed up to the police station in a stolen vehicle themselves.  The guardians were dropped off at the police station without incident, and officers went looking for the car after they realized it was stolen.  Upon seeing police, the driver of the vehicle panicked and allegedly almost hit one of the police officers as he was attempting to flee.  Cops eventually stopped the car, and three more juveniles were located in this stolen vehicle and charged with unauthorized use.  One of the juveniles was a 16-year-old with outstanding arrest warrants and another was a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing from another county.

This incident happened on the same day that 5 young adults were also arrested for motor vehicle theft in Charles County after officers patrolling in Waldorf located two stolen Hyundais in front of a business.  Officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop of these vehicles but the driver fled.  All five suspects were eventually arrested and charged related to this vehicle and allegedly several others.  One of the defendants, a 21-year-old male from Washington D.C. was held without bail, likely due to the fact that he has another open motor vehicle theft case in Howard County and an open burglary case in Charles County.  By all accounts this means there were at least 10 juveniles or young adults arrested in Charles County for auto theft related charges in a single day, so it’s no surprise the numbers are skyrocketing in Baltimore County as well.

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jaguar-1366978_960_720-300x169Four Baltimore teenagers and a 12-year-old were recently arrested in Ocean City for an armed carjacking that resulted in the victim being taken to the hospital.  In addition to being charged with multiple felonies including carjacking, armed robbery and motor vehicle theft, the 19-year-old defendant was also charged with 13 traffic infractions including attempting to elude a uniformed officer by fleeing on foot and reckless driving.  The criminal and traffic infractions were scheduled for preliminary hearing today in the Ocean City District Court, but the hearing was waived.  The State will now decide which charges to file in the Circuit Court for Worcester County in Snow Hill.  According to reports, police responded to the scene of the robbery where a 73-year-old victim advised he had been approached by three young men in Downtown Ocean City.  One of the men brandished a handgun and pointed it at the victim while demanding items.  The male with the handgun then hit the victim in the back of the head with the gun and drove off with the vehicle.

Officers in the area spotted the stolen vehicle at a convenience store a few blocks away and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the driver took off.  Two other stolen vehicles fled the scene as well, and all were tracked by law enforcement.  One of the stolen vehicles attempted to flee town using the Route 50 bridge, but police were able to disable the vehicle using stop sticks in West Ocean City.  This 19-year-old suspect then attempted to run from police but was apprehended by Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputies before being handed back over to the OCPD.  The carjacked vehicle was located a short time later in Wicomico County, and its 15-year-old driver was arrested and charged as a juvenile.  The third stolen vehicle made it the furthest before crashing in Dorchester County and then catching fire.  Three juvenile defendants were arrested after attempting to flee on foot.  One of the juvenile defendants in the third vehicle was in possession of a stolen handgun.  This defendant was 17 and charged as an adult in Dorchester County with similar charges as the 19-year-old defendant, but with additional charges for possession of a firearm by a minor, possession of ammunition and possession of a stolen firearm.  The juvenile court does not have original jurisdiction over violent crimes and gun offense when the defendant is 16 or 17.  Rather, these cases will be sent directly to adult court and would only be transferred back to juvenile court if a judge grants what is known as a reverse waiver.  The two youngest defendants, ages 12 and 14, were charged and released to their parents by police.  Further investigation revealed that numerous vehicles had been broken into that evening in Downtown Ocean City, and a handgun was stolen out of one of them.

The Blog will continue to follow the adult defendant’s case, and may post a follow up article when there is a resolution in the Circuit Court.  All juvenile cases are sealed from public view, so we will not be able to follow up on the three youngest defendants.  Although the 17-year-old defendant was charged as an adult, his case is also shielded from public view due to the fact that he is a juvenile.  Shielding adult cases is a new policy in Maryland, which assures that the privacy of juvenile defendants is protected.  This is especially important due to the high percentage of cases that are waived back down to juvenile court, where a defendant or respondent receives the benefit of privacy from the beginning.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, contact Maryland juvenile criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin has successfully defended dozens of juveniles charged with some of the most serious offenses including carjacking, armed robbery, motor vehicle theft, and firearm possession.  He specializes in gun crimes in Maryland Eastern Shore locations such as Worcester County, Wicomico County and Dorchester County, and also handles drug and DUI charges in Ocean City.  Call Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your case.

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hammer-719066_960_720-300x225This past week in Annapolis a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill passed in the Maryland Senate, and now the bill heads to the House for debate.  The 23-page bill proposes numerous modifications to the existing juvenile justice system, but perhaps the most noteworthy is the section that would eliminate most prosecutions of juveniles under the age of 13.  Juvenile criminal courts currently have jurisdiction over children as young as 7, but the new measure would end criminal prosecution of children under 13 unless they are charged with crimes of violence such as first-degree assault, robbery, felony sex offenses, arson and attempted murder.  In these situations, the minimum age for  criminal prosecution in a Maryland juvenile court would become ten.  This measure would free up resources for juvenile offenders who are facing more serious charges, and who may benefit from a wider range of services provided by the department.

Another major change proposed in the juvenile justice bill would give more authority for intake officers to resolve cases before they are sent to court.  Currently juvenile services intake officers must forward all felony cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office.  The State then has 30 days to decide whether to file a juvenile delinquency petition in the appropriate circuit court.  In contrast, a juvenile intake officer may resolve a misdemeanor by closing the case with a warning or offering informal supervision.  Misdemeanor cases would still be able to be filed in the circuit court if the State or the victim objects to the intake officer’s decision.  This is a long overdue modification, as it is a major waste of resources to set juvenile cases for intake hearings if there is no chance the case can be resolved.  Intake hearings for felony cases are currently futile, as the officer’s hands are tied.  Rather than keep a blanket provision that strips the intake officers of power to do their job, the legislature is moving toward trusting the officers to make a decision on a case-by-case basis.  There are limitations on this proposal however, as intake officers would still have to forward all felony crimes of violence to the State, as well as cases where the allegation is causing or attempting to cause death or physical injury to another.  The physical injury terminology may have to be revised to reflect serious bodily injury though, as physical injury is a rather general term.

The bill also adds a provision that allows the State and the defense to hold delinquency proceedings in abeyance in favor of a term of informal adjustment.  If the State and defense agree, the child may have the ability to complete certain conditions and then be awarded with a dismissal of the delinquency petition.  This type of diversionary track has traditionally been accomplished by way of a STET, but establishing an official system to avoid adjudications going on a juvenile’s record is a welcomed tool.  Other new provisions include reducing the time between detention hearings for all juveniles held to every 14 days instead of every 25 days, and barring juveniles from being sent to out-of-home placements if the most serious charge is a misdemeanor or on a technical violation of probation.  Firearm offenses would be the exception to this provision, and may still result in placement out of the home.

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graphics-882726_640-300x207The three remaining juvenile defendants charged with the murder of a Baltimore County police officer have decided to forgo their right to a jury trial, and instead elected to plead guilty to first-degree murder. The guilty pleas were entered today during a previously scheduled court appearance at the circuit court in Towson, and a sentencing hearing will take place later in the summer. Trial dates that were originally scheduled for September have been cancelled. The plea came a month after the main defendant, a 17-year old, was convicted of first-degree murder, burglary and theft for running over a police officer in a stolen car after committing burglary of a nearby home. This defendant will learn his fate at the end of July, and faces a mandatory life sentence.

As part of the plea for the three remaining defendants, the State’s Attorney’s Office requested that the judge cap the active period of incarceration at 30 years. While a conviction for murder in Maryland carries a mandatory life sentence, the statute does not require the defendant to serve the entire sentence in prison, and a portion of the sentence may be suspended. If the judge accepts the State’s recommendation the three will serve at least 15 years in prison before being parole eligible. Defendants sentenced to state prison are normally eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence, but for a violent offense must serve at least 50 percent before being considered. Regardless of when they are released, all defendants will likely be placed on probation for a period of 3 to 5 years and will be on parole for life.

All four of the defendants are considered juveniles, but all four were charged directly as adults. Maryland juvenile courts do not have original jurisdiction over cases where the defendant was over the age of 14 at the time of the offense and charged with a serious crime such as murder, first degree assault, robbery, carjacking, firearms offenses and felony sexual offenses. When the juvenile court does not have jurisdiction the police are required to book and charge the defendant in adult court. The juvenile defendants are detained in a secure facility (under state law they must be separated from the adult population) until they see a district or circuit court judge at a bail review hearing. Most defendants in this situation are eligible to have their attorney file for a reverse waiver, which would transfer the case back down to juvenile court. This motion must be filed within 30 days, and DJS is required to do a study before the hearing can take place. If the motion is granted then the defendant will be set for arraignment/ detention hearing in juvenile court, and be subject to supervision by the department until the case is over. If the motion is denied the case will proceed as scheduled in adult court.

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hammer-802296__480-300x225After two days of deliberation a Baltimore County jury found a teenager guilty of first degree murder, burglary and theft for actions that lead to the death of a female police officer almost one year ago. The defendant was 16 at the time he was arrested in Perry Hall after running over the officer with a stolen Jeep. Three other male co-defendants are still awaiting trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. All four were under the age of 18 and all were charged with first-degree murder in adult court. A juvenile who is charged with first degree murder and was 16 or older at the time of the offense is prohibited from requesting a transfer to juvenile court, which in Maryland is called a reverse waiver. Juveniles who have been convicted of a prior violent felony such as robbery or first degree assault or other excluded offense like handgun possession are also prohibited from requesting a reverse waiver, as are juveniles who have already been waived and found delinquent. One of the co-defendants in this case was actually 15 at the time of the incident, but his case was not transferred to juvenile court. The 3 remaining defendants are all scheduled for trial in September, and it remains to be seen whether the State will now be more inclined to offer plea deals to a crime other than first degree murder.

The defendant who was recently convicted now must return to the circuit court for sentencing, but under Maryland law the judge will be required to impose a sentence of life. While the state prison system has a fairly liberal parole policy, (violent offenders are often released after serving one half of their sentence) parole is not a forgone conclusion even for young defendants who receive life in prison. Maryland law provides prosecutors the option of seeking life without parole in murder cases, but this requires advance notice to the defendant and a special sentencing trial where the jury must unanimously approve life without parole. If the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision within a reasonable amount of time then a life sentence must be imposed.

This case has stirred up more debate over the fairness of the felony murder doctrine, which allows the jury to convict in a murder case without the State actually proving the defendant intended to kill. First-degree felony murder only requires that the State satisfy three elements, with the first being that the defendant or co-defendant committed a felony such as burglary, arson, carjacking, escape or a sexual offense. The second element is that the defendant killed the victim, and the third element is that the act resulting in the death of the victim occurred during the commission of, or in the immediate escape from the scene of the felony described in the first element. In co-defendant cases such as this one, all participants are liable for the acts of the other co-defendants. It is for this reason that the three other juvenile defendants face the same first-degree murder charge as the one whose actions actually killed the officer.

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prison-300x201Two county jails in Maryland are now under investigation for alleged mistreatment of juvenile inmates. In response to complaints lodged by the Public Defender’s Office, the State Department of Education is investigating whether juvenile inmates were properly separated from the adult jail population while being housed at adult facilities. State and federal law requires juvenile inmates to be totally separated by sight and sound from the rest of the population, which is often accomplished by housing them in separate wings or units of the jail. But the Baltimore County and Frederick County Detention Centers now stand accused of violating these laws and have yet to issue any statements denying the accusations.

A 2015 Maryland law requires that juvenile defendants charged with adult crimes must be housed in juvenile facilities until their request to transfer the case back to juvenile court has been denied. Legally speaking the transfer request is called a reverse waiver hearing. This is an essential stage of the case, and all child defendants must be afforded the opportunity to have their lawyer argue for the case to be heard in juvenile court. Adult criminal court simply does not offer the same type of services and support as juvenile court and is focused on punishment rather than the education and treatment.

Defendants under the age of 18 who commit a felony such as first degree assault or robbery with a firearm must petition a circuit court judge for a reverse waiver in order to be tried in juvenile court. Juvenile courts do not have original jurisdiction for serious offenses of this nature. The process of waiving a case down does not happen automatically and if a motion is not filed the defendant may lose this opportunity. At the reverse waiver hearing the judge will consider numerous factors such as the age of the child, the risk to public safety and the mental and physical condition of the child. If the judge denies the reverse waiver the child must then be transferred to an adult jail facility pending the results of the trial. Defendants that are in school at juvenile facilities will be taken out and sent to jails that offer minimal educational opportunities, and according to these reports struggle to keep their most vulnerable defendants safe.

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squad-car-1209719_960_720-300x162As a parent there are few things worse than finding out that your child has been arrested and charged with a crime.  The initial disbelief is soon replaced by concern, fear and anger, and the worst part is not being able to do anything about it right away.  The emotions are compounded when a parent is going through this for the first time, as it’s easy to assume the worst and impossible to know what to expect.  The important thing for all parents to remember is that the juvenile criminal court system in Maryland is not designed to punish individuals like the adult court system.  For most juvenile cases punishment is secondary to providing the child with guidance and counseling to make sure he or she does not become a repeat offender. It may be a tough road ahead, but most juvenile defendants do not end up with any type of criminal record that could interfere with college applications or future employment as long as their case is handled properly.  That being said, the process will be much easier and the rate of success much higher if the parents and the child are informed each step of the way.

Most juveniles that are arrested are charged by citation and released to the custody of their parents. After the arrest the first step is for the child to appear before a juvenile services officer at an intake hearing. The intake hearing is an excellent opportunity for the child and family to avoid going to court, and should be treated seriously.  The intake officer has the ability to close the case and issue a warning or place the child on an informal period of probation that typically involves community service.  Each of these options will close the case without any type of official criminal court record being created, which is absolutely key to preserving the child’s future opportunities.  In some cases the State’s Attorney’s Office or the victim may object to the case being closed, and this will result in the case moving on to the circuit court.  The intake officer could also decide to forward the case to the circuit court.  If the case is forwarded to the circuit court it does not mean the child will be sent off to a program and it doesn’t mean the child will have a permanent criminal record.  To the contrary there is still a strong likelihood that the child will not be subjected to any drastic forms of punishment, and will be totally done with the court system within six months to a year.

When a case is forwarded to court the juvenile will receive notice to appear for an arraignment within a few weeks, though in some jurisdiction the arraignment is cancelled if an attorney files his or her appearance.  In the weeks between arraignment and trial or disposition the lawyers from both sides will discuss the case and attempt to come to a resolution. This is similar to adult court, but the time frames are much shorter.  Trial will usually be set within one month instead of three or four months.  Regardless of whether there is a plea or a trial, juveniles are not found guilty or not guilty, as the term guilty is replaced by delinquent.  If a child is found delinquent, he or she may still be able to have the case expunged and in some cases if a proper motion is filed may be able to have the finding overturned.  Both of these outcomes will assure that the child’s future is not negatively impacted by the case, which is the ultimate goal.

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