In the society today, many crimes are going on. However, adults are not the only people who commit these crimes. One of the contentious issues today is whether juvenile offenders should be treated as adults when they commit criminal offences. To determine whether they should be treated as adults, a judge has to establish whether they were ‘old enough’ to commit the crime in their ‘right mind’. However, Tufts (2013) has sharply disagreed with the phrase ‘old enough to do the time’ (p.346). He argues that people should change their perception on using such phrases because juveniles are not adults, and this will not make them one. In Maryland, a juvenile can be charged as an adult and deprived the right to transfer his or her case to a juvenile court. Although in Maryland there are juvenile courts, a minor can be charged as an adult automatically. For instance, a defendant who has been charged with burglary can be charged in adult courts based on the seriousness of the crime. This means a defendant who is under the age of 18 can be charged in adult court automatically without going through a juvenile court. If convicted, they can be sentenced to detention in adult jail. This means that a juvenile who is convicted in adult jail will carry a permanent mark on a criminal record. Moreover, the juvenile who is detained in adult jail will bear collateral consequences that come with such conviction for the rest of his life. These collateral consequences include stigma and a criminal record that reduce chances of having a normal life after conviction. Moreover, when a juvenile is convicted, it means their chances of getting a good education and employment diminishes significantly.
History of automatic charging in Maryland
The automatic charging of youths in adult court in Maryland was largely compelled by increased juvenile offences. In 1830, Maryland passed an Act that established the House of Refuge intended for Juvenile Delinquents. In 1902, the General Assembly in Maryland established a special court to charge youth under the age of 16 years. The charging of youths was at the discretion of juvenile judge. In 1998 when juvenile crime increased, Maryland enacted automatic charging of juveniles in adult courts whenever they committed serious crimes. Consequently, when youths committed serious crimes such as murder, rape, and armed robbery, they were automatically charged in adult courts.
In normal circumstance, a juvenile is treated as immature who does not deserve to be treated as an adult. However, in Maryland, a juvenile who is tried in adult court is denied the right to request a transfer to a juvenile court. Although there are courts that are specifically meant to handle juvenile cases, when a minor is charged in an adult court, he can be a convict in adult jails. Juvenile courts have jurisdiction to trial defendants below the age of 21 years. When a juvenile commits a serious crime, they can be charged in adult court. However, before charging the child, the decision has to be transferred to a juvenile court to determine whether a child will be charged as an adult or not. This transfer is referred as a ‘transfer of hearing’ that does not happen automatically, but must be requested by the juvenile being charged. Ideally, this request is a motion that asks the court to consider and carry out a study of the offender. It is the duty of the Department of Juvenile Service to conduct an investigation on the defendant to determine if they should be charged in an adult court or not. The investigation helps the Department of Juvenile Service to determine whether they should charge the defendant in a juvenile court or not. If a defendant is lucky to have the case transferred to a juvenile court, it represents a remarkable win. The charging of youth in adult court does not in any way act as a deterrent to juvenile crime, but only put youths at a greater risk of abuse in prison. The automatic charging of children in adult court started in the case of Kent v. United States in 1966. In this case, the Supreme Court judge listed factors that must be considered before a youth can be charged in adult courts. Over the years, different states have adopted this case and implemented it in charges that should be determined in juvenile courts. While the intention of the Supreme Court was to deter youth from the severity of the offence, prosecutors today have misused this provision by transferring youths to criminal courts.
The decision to charge juvenile in adult court was compelled by increased violence between 1992 and 1998. More than forty states including Maryland made it easy for a juvenile to be charged in adult courts. A juvenile can be transferred to adult court in many ways that have arbitrary decision-making. Specifically, African Americans are more likely to be transferred to adult court due to racism and bias ruling. The judiciary holds the notion that they can be able to issue harsher sentences to prevent youths from committing crimes. However, many researchers throughout the US have shown that charging children in adult court does not deter juvenile crimes nor does it result to longer sentences than in juvenile court.
Consequences of charging children in adult courts
When children are charged in adult courts, they experience not only physical injuries, but also physiological trauma. In many states, a judge has the jurisdiction to determine whether a minor should be charged in adult court or not. Some states exclude certain crimes from the juvenile court. In Maryland, youths are automatically charged in adult court if they commit serious crimes. In some states, the judge has jurisdiction to waive minors in particular cases. However, in Maryland, the judiciary has always had a way of transferring some cases to adult courts especially those involving African-American. The transfer of a juvenile to adult court is under the jurisdiction of the judiciary and in most cases is limited to serious crimes only. In most cases, juveniles are charged in adult court where the judge is convinced that the minor cannot be rehabilitated. However, in recent years, rehabilitation has been emphasized thus leading to a proliferation of the transfer provision. In Maryland, the automatic charging of children in adult courts can only be provoked when they commit serious crimes such as murder, armed robbery, and rape. However, the decision to charge these minors is dependent on the age of the offender. These offences are automatically excluded from juvenile court making it easy for youths to be convicted in adult jails if they are found guilty and convicted. Although a juvenile who commits a serious crime can be charged in adult court, he can request a ‘reverse waiver’ to a juvenile court. In making this decision, the judge will consider whether it is in the interest of the society or the child by considering the mental condition of the offender and age. However, recent judgment shows that a juvenile judge has the power to transfer charges involving misdemeanor to adult court when the child is more than 15 years.
In some cases, the juvenile court waives jurisdiction in cases where the minor has committed a serious offence and is below 15 years. However, the judge must consider five factors in a criminal court to allow a reverse hearing. For instance, in the case of Julianne 15-year-old who stabbed a girl in her high school could not be allowed to request a reverse waiver. The presiding judge in the juvenile court ruled that she had committed a serious offence hence she should be tried in adult court. When her lawyer appealed against the ruling in an appellant court, Judge Ellen Hollander ruled that no evidence indicated Julianne had the intention to commit a future crime. The appellant judge argued that her requested to be tried in a juvenile court was rejected on the based on her crime. This shows how judges misused their powers to charge children in adult court. After a critical analysis of the child’s character, a juvenile judge may decide to transfer the minor to adult court. The decision to transfer youths from juvenile to adult courts can be challenging, underlining the essence of such transfer in exceptional cases. Redding (2013) noted that in some instances, prosecutor overcharges African-American children so that they can be charged in adult courts. Although juvenile judges have adequate skills and experience to handle children cases, sometimes they can be deluded by the prosecutor’s charges.
Impact of charging children in adult court
There is a hot debate whether the decision of Maryland government to impose heavier consequences on youths results into a concrete improvement of character. The assumption that the judicial policies will serve to deter youths from engaging in criminal activities is still a matter of debate. According to the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges, the assumption that courts are tougher cannot deter youths from committing crimes. If this assumption is anything to go by, it means a tougher sentence for children who are charged in adult courts. When children are charged in adult court, if they are convicted, adult prisoner exposes them to the risk of harm. For instance, Richardson noted that after he was convicted, he has suffered isolation and physical damage caused by adult prisoners. The collateral consequence of being tried as an adult is the detention in adult jail. According to Aviva (2014), Richardson argued that he has suffered both physically and psychologically while in prison with adult prisoners.
The imminent dangers of young children being detained as they await trial have a direct impact on their life. As highlighted by Howell and Hutto (2012), whether they are found guilty or not, the prospect that they will spend six months to 1 year behind bars can cause more harm than good (p.789). As noted by Richardson, (who is currently serving 20-year jail term in Maryland prison) conviction can take away what you have invested in your whole life. In Baltimore, the prosecutor is not part of the initial charging of the juvenile contrary to other states in the US. As an alternative, the preparation of charges is a duty of the police whose decision can take more than one month before it is reviewed. According to a report by the Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project, police in Maryland usually charge juvenile with more serious crimes. In particular, police tend to charge African-American children with more serious crimes that led them to be convicted. This practice has resulted in the conviction of more juvenile for crimes they never committed.
Even when juveniles are detained, it takes more than one year before they can go to trial. For instance, in 2013, Judge Dawson dropped a juvenile rape case after the court lost contact with the victim for two years. The juvenile was only a suspect who might not have committed the crime. According to Siegel and Welsh (2014), the juvenile had not committed the crime but was only alleged to have been involved. This case shows the danger that is exposed to a juvenile who is tried and detained in adult jail. Children who are charged in Maryland risks being held for more than six months before trial. Juveniles are treated as an adult where they are expected to bear all collateral damages of being in adult jail. OJJDP have argued that the delayed trial of a juvenile should be viewed from the perspective of an adolescent offender. In normal circumstance, any case should go to trial within 90 days. However, the 90 days means a juvenile has to wait for an equivalent of summer to go to trial. This notion is supported by development psychologists who argued that children cases should be given priority even when there is any sanction imposed to make rehabilitation meaningful. When juvenile are charged in adult courts, they may be subjected to ‘minimum sentence’ that includes ‘three sticks’ intended to rise prison terms. It aims to reduce their ability to become eligible for parole. For instance, in Maryland, a juvenile charged in adult court cannot be allowed to vote on reaching 18 years. The collateral damage of being tried and convicted in adult jail is immense since they usually emerge without high school diploma. Moreover, the fact that they were convicted bears on their shoulders for the rest of their life making it even difficult to find employment.
According to a survey by Freado and Bath (2014) in New York and New Jersey, the effort made by the courts to charge juveniles in an adult law court is amplified by the assumption that adult court will deter minors from crimes. However, this notion does not hold water considering that different survey shows that tougher juvenile ruling do not prevent them from committing crimes. Children who are charged in adult courts are more likely to be convicted and sentenced to incarceration rather than helping them through rehabilitation. Moreover, children who are tried in juvenile courts are more likely to be rehabilitated and punished swiftly. Those children who are charged in adult court and juvenile court are more likely to receive a similar jail term. This perception is supported by a study of Maryland youths tried in adult court between 2005 and 2013 found that the sentence in both courts is similar.
Aviva, S. (2014). Solitary watch: In a Maryland Jail, teens charged as adults face Isolation and neglect. Web.
Freado, M. D., & Bath, H. I. (2014). Standing Alone in Judgment. Reclaiming Children And Youth, 22(4), 21-26.
Howell, R. J., & Hutto, T. S. (2012). Sentencing Convicted Juvenile Felony Offenders in the Adult Court: The Direct Effects of Race. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 30(6), 782-799.
Redding, R. E. (2013). Examining Legal Issues: Juvenile Offenders in Criminal Court and Adult Prison. Corrections Today, 61(2), 92.
Siegel, L. & Welsh, B. (2014). Juvenile delinquency : the core. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Tufts, A. (2013). Born to be an offender? antisocial personality disorder and its implications on juvenile transfer to adult court in federal proceedings. Lewis & Clark Law Review, 17(1), 333-359.