When a minor is charged with a crime in Maryland, the legal process can be daunting and confusing for the child and their family. The juvenile court system is designed to rehabilitate rather than punish, but navigating it can still be challenging. To help you better understand the process and what to expect, we've compiled this comprehensive guide on navigating the Maryland juvenile court system.
Understanding the Difference Between Juvenile and Adult Court
In Maryland, the juvenile court system is separate from the adult court system, and it handles cases involving minors (under 18) who are accused of committing a crime. The primary goal of the juvenile court is to rehabilitate the child and address the underlying issues that led to the criminal behavior. In contrast, the adult court system focuses more on punishment and deterrence.
Some serious offenses, however, can result in a minor being charged as an adult. In these cases, the juvenile may be transferred to the adult court system and face more severe penalties if convicted. Maryland law lists offenses that can result in a juvenile being charged as an adult, including murder, rape, and certain firearm offenses.
The Juvenile Court Process: Key Steps and Timelines
The Maryland juvenile court process typically involves the following steps:
- Intake: After a minor is arrested or a complaint is filed, the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) conducts an intake assessment to determine if the case should be handled informally (through community-based services) or formally (through the court system). The DJS has 25 days to complete this assessment.
- Petition: If the case is referred to the court, a petition outlining the charges against the minor is filed. The minor is then summoned to appear in court for an adjudicatory hearing.
- Adjudicatory Hearing: This is the trial phase of the juvenile court process, where a judge hears evidence and determines if the minor is involved in the alleged offense. If the judge finds the minor involved, the case moves to the disposition phase.
- Disposition: During this phase, the court determines the appropriate rehabilitation plan for the minor, including probation, community service, counseling, or placement in a residential treatment facility. The court has 30 days from the adjudicatory hearing to issue a disposition order.
- Review Hearings: The court will schedule periodic review hearings to monitor the minor's progress and ensure compliance with the court-ordered rehabilitation plan.
The Role of a Juvenile Defense Attorney
An experienced juvenile defense attorney is crucial in navigating the Maryland juvenile court system. A skilled attorney can help:
- Advocate for the minor during the intake process, potentially diverting the case from the court system and avoiding a formal record.
- Challenge the evidence and present a strong defense during the adjudicatory hearing.
- Recommend appropriate rehabilitation options during the disposition phase.
- Represent the minor during review hearings and advocate for necessary modifications to the court-ordered plan.
At MacDonald Law Office, LLC, we understand the unique challenges families face navigating the Maryland juvenile court system. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to providing compassionate and effective representation to protect your child's future.
Contact MacDonald Law Office, LLC today to schedule a FREE case evaluation!