Juvenile System & Juvenile Courts

Categories :: Criminal, Youth Law

The Purpose of the Juvenile System

  • To provide care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of children coming within the provisions of the law;
  • To balance the public safety and the protection of the community while holding the child accountable to the victim and the community for the offenses committed and to assist the child in becoming a responsible and productive member of society;
  • To provide a program of treatment, training, and rehabilitation that fits with the child's best interests and the public interest;
  • To conserve and strengthen the child's family ties and separate a child only when necessary for his welfare or in the interest of public safety;
  • To hold parents responsible, where possible, for working on the circumstances that required the court’s intervention;
  • If necessary, to remove a child from home, giving the child as close as possible to the custody, care and discipline that should have been given by the parents; and
  • To provide children in State custody with a safe, humane and caring environment and access to required services.

Read the Law: MD Code Crts. & Jud. Proc. §3-8A-02

How does a child get into the system?

A child can enter the system in any of the following ways.

  • A citizen or agency files a complaint about the child with the Department of Juvenile Services or requests a peace order;
  • A law enforcement officer files a report about the child with the Department of Juvenile Services;
  • The child is arrested; or
  • In certain cases, the child is charged as an adult, but tried or sentenced as a juvenile.

What steps should you take if you are caught doing something illegal?

Ask for an attorney and for your parents. In Maryland, by statute, a child alleged to be delinquent has the right to an attorney at every stage of the proceeding.  At some stages there is also a constitutional right to counsel; but even where there is no constitutional right, Maryland has created a statutory right.  You do not have to say anything to a police officer without an attorney or your parents present.  Read the Law: Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-8A-20.         

What happens if you are arrested?

Detention or Shelter Care Prior to Hearing

If a child is taken into custody, the court or intake officer may authorize detention or shelter care.  The child may not be detained in an adult jail or other facility for the detention of adults.  Read the Law: Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. §§ 3-8A-14 and 3-8A-15.


            Within 25 days of receiving a complaint, an intake officer will decide whether there is juvenile jurisdiction and if judicial action is appropriate.

  • The intake officer may decide to file a petition or a peace order request or both;
  • The intake officer may, if the victim agrees, informally dispose of your case by allowing you to go home and work with a community program under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services;
  • The intake officer may simply refuse to authorize the filing of a petition or peace order.  If you have committed an act that would be a felony if you were an adult, the State’s Attorney may overrule the intake officer’s decision and file a petition or peace order or both;
  • If the intake officer decides not to file a petition or peace order, the victim, arresting officer or complaining person or agency may appeal the decision to the State’s Attorney.


Petitions alleging delinquency are filed by the State’s Attorney’s Office within 30 days after receipt of referral from an intake officer.  The petition alleging delinquency shall “set forth in clear and simple language the alleged facts which constitute the delinquency, and shall also specify the laws allegedly violated by the child.”   Felony hearings are open to the public.  Read the Law:  Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-8A-13.


  • You have the same rights as adults - the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
  • Efforts are made to immediately notify your parents or guardian;
  • The court then decides whether you are released to your parents or to a shelter home or  juvenile detention facility run by the Department of Juvenile Services;
  • If you are not released to your parents, you are sent to a shelter or detention facility.
  • A hearing is scheduled on the next court date to figure out if there is "probable cause" to believe that you committed the crime; if there is enough evidence to believe you may have committed the crime, you could be held until the trial (adjudicatory or merits hearing).

Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. § 3-8A-14 and 3-8A-15

Who decides whether you will be released to your parents or whether you will have to stay in the Detention Facility?

A judge makes this decision. The judge listens to what law enforcement officers are recommending, and the judge also considers:

  • How severe the crime was;
  • Your past record;
  • How cooperative you have been;
  • How cooperative your parents have been;
  • How hard it was to arrest you;
  • Whether you are a danger to anyone;
  • How likely you are to return to court when required;
  • How safe it is for you and others for you to return home; and
  • Whether your parents are willing to take you home.

Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. § 3-8A-15

What happens if your case is a "delinquency" case?

The state's attorney will get involved in your case.

  • First, you will have an adjudicatory hearing (also called a merits hearing). At the adjudicatory hearing, the judge or master will determine whether the factual allegations in the petition are true.  The State’s Attorney will present the case.  Allegations must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  You have the right to remain silent and that may not be held against you.  Read the Law:  Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-8A-18.
  • If the court finds that the factual allegations are true, you will have a disposition hearing.  At the disposition hearing, the judge or master will determine whether you are a delinquent child in need of guidance, treatment, or rehabilitation, and the nature of any such guidance, treatment, or rehabilitation.
  • If it is determined that you committed the "delinquent act" (an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult), and that you need guidance, treatment, or rehabilitation, then the judge can also decide whether you should be committed to the Department of Juvenile Services for placement in a juvenile program or be placed on probation with services from the State.  Read the Law:  Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. §§ 3-8A-01; 3-8A-19 and 3-8A-22.
  • Restitution – You and/or your parents may be liable to the victim for restitution up to $10,000 for each single incident.  The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services is responsible for collection of restitution payments when the restitution order provides that restitution is to be made in periodic or installment payments as part of probation, or pursuant to a work plan.  Read the Law:  Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-8A-28 and Md. Code Crim. Proc. Art. Title 11, Subtitle 6, Part 1.

What if I do not understand the court proceedings?

Tell your attorney if you do not understand what is happening in the proceedings.

Your attorney may request that the Department of Juvenile Services or the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study you, your home, family and other things that may affect your ability to understand the proceedings.

If it is decided that you need services to understand the proceedings, the court will refer you to competency attainment services provided by the Maryland State Department of Education. These services may be provided to you at home or in a facility for children. The competency attainment services cannot be provided in a detention facility.

If you cannot become competent, within a reasonable period of time, to proceed in the juvenile case, your attorney may petition the court to have your case dismissed.

Read the Law: Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. §§ 3-8A-17.1, and following.

Can I be placed outside my home?

If you are found delinquent, the court can place you outside your home.  Generally, however, the court cannot place you outside your home if your most serious offense is one of the following:

However, even if your most serious offense is one of these, the court can place you outside the home, if any of the following circumstances apply:

  • You previously have been adjudicated delinquent for three or more offenses arising from separate and independent circumstances;
  • You voluntarily waive this provision; or
  • The court makes a written finding, supported by specific facts, that an out-of-home placement is necessary for your welfare or in the interest of public safety.

Read the law:  Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art. § 3-8A-19.

Will you be treated as an adult? Will adult rules and punishments be used in your case?

You will most likely go to juvenile court, unless you commit a very serious crime. If you have committed a serious crime, the regular Circuit Court will hear your case and determine whether you will be tried or sentenced as an adult, including going to jail or other adult punishment.

If your case falls into any of the following categories, it may be handled in adult criminal court:

  1. If you are 16 years or older at the time of the offense, and you are charged with any of the following offenses:
    • carjacking;
    • abduction;
    • kidnapping;
    • second degree murder (or attempt);
    • manslaughter, except involuntary manslaughter (or attempt);
    • second degree rape or sex offense (or attempt);
    • third degree sex offense;
    • robbery with a deadly weapon (or attempt);
    • first degree assault;
    • using, wearing, carrying, or transporting a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime; or
    • use or possession of a firearm.
  2. If you are 14 years or older at the time of the offense, and you are charged with committing a crime punishable by life imprisonment:
    • first degree murder or attempted first degree murder
    • first degree rape or attempted first degree rape
    • first degree sex offense or attempted first degree sex offense
  3. If you are 16 years or older and you are charged with possession, transportation, or use of a handgun (includes all crimes arising out of the same incident.)
  4. "Waiver": You could also end up in adult criminal court by a process known as "waiver." There are two types of waiver: "waiver up" and "waiver down."
    • Waiver Up: If you have reached the age of 15, the juvenile court may send the case to adult criminal court where adult penalties apply.
    • Waiver Down: If you are automatically charged as an adult, you have the right to ask the adult court to send the case to juvenile court. Even if you are tried as an adult, you may still ask the court to send you to juvenile court for rehabilitative care instead of imposing an adult sentence.  If you are 16 or 17 years old and charged with murder, you are not eligible for waiver down. Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. § 3-8A-03

The judge considers the following factors when deciding whether to allow a waiver up or down:

  • Your age;
  • Your mental/physical condition;
  • Whether you will agree to treatment and will benefit from treatment in a juvenile facility or program;
  • The nature of the crime committed and how much you participated in it; and
  • The public safety.

Read the Law: MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. § 3-8A-06

How long will your arrest, charge, and conviction stay on your criminal record?

Forever. However, only certain people will be able to see it under limited circumstances. You can try to have it removed through a process called "expungement."

Sexual Crimes & Registry

A person who has been adjudicated delinquent for an act that would constitute first or second degree rape or first or second degree sexual assault if committed by an adult will be required to register with the supervising authority if:

  1. the person was a minor who was at least 13 years old at the time the delinquent act was committed;
  2. the State’s Attorney or the Department of Juvenile Services requests that the person be required to register;
  3. 90 days prior to the time the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the person terminates under § 3–8A–07 of the Courts Article, the court, after a hearing, determines under a clear and convincing evidence standard that the person is at significant risk of committing a sexually violent offense or an offense for which registration as a tier II sex offender or tier III sex offender is required; and
  4. the person is at least 18 years old.

Read the Law: MD Code Ann. Crim. Pro. 11-704.

Juvenile Sex Offender Registry

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services maintains a registry of juvenile sex offenders separately from the adult sex offender registry.

A person may be placed on the juvenile sex offender registry if: (a) the person has been adjudicated delinquent for an act that, if committed by an adult would constitute first or second degree rape or a sexual offense in the first, second or third degree and; (b) the person was a minor who was at least 14 years old at the time of the delinquent act.

The registry is available only to law enforcement personnel for law enforcement purposes.

When the juvenile court’s jurisdiction over the child terminates, the child must be removed from the registry.

Read the Law: MD Code Ann. Crim. Pro. 11-704.1 

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