The 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.