In certain serious felonies, juvenile defendants in Maryland can be charged as though they were adults. This means that a defendant under the age of 18 who is charged with something like robbery can be charged in adult court. Just like any other defendant in adult court, the juvenile charged as an adult can be, if convicted, sentenced to incarceration in an adult jail. And, just like any other defendant in adult court, if convicted, the juvenile will carry a permanent mark on his criminal record. In addition to the immediate criminal penalties that come with such a conviction, the juvenile convicted in adult court will experience collateral consequences for the rest of his life. These consequences almost always include diminished employment prospects as well as the social stigma that comes with a criminal conviction. Unlike a juvenile record, an adult record cannot be sealed or expunged. This Means that a conviction for an adult criminal offense can brand a young person, someone who is not yet 18, as a felon for the rest of his life.
In the state of Maryland a juvenile who has been charged as an adult does have an opportunity to request that his case be transferred to juvenile court. Maryland, just as every other state, has a system of juvenile courts that handle juvenile criminal matters exclusively. These courts are focused on rehabilitation of young offenders. In Maryland, the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over defendants until they turn 21 years old.
Often the most important part of defending a juvenile charged with a serious adult offense in adult court is the hearing on his request to have is case moved to juvenile court. The hearing to determine whether or not a juvenile charged as an adult will be sent to juvenile court is called a transfer hearing. Transfer hearings do not happen automatically. In order to get a transfer hearing the young person charged as an adult must file a motion requesting the transfer. The motion typically asks the court to conduct a study of the juvenile offender. Typically the jurisdiction’s Department of juvenile services will conduct some investigation into the young defendants background. This investigation will be used to write a report for the court. As a part of the investigation the Department of Juvenile Services may wish to interview family members, look at school records, and interview the defendant himself. Answers given during the interview process will help the department decide whether or not to recommend that the juvenile be transferred to juvenile court.
Although winning a transfer hearing does not dispose of the case in its entirety, a successful transfer hearing is a tremendous win for the defendant.
Please see my next post for criteria used by judges at juvenile transfer hearings.