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When Can a Juvenile be Charged as an Adult in a Maryland Criminal Court?

In most cases, when a minor is arrested on suspicion of breaking the law, they are tried in a juvenile court. But for certain offenses, a minor as young as 14 or 16 must be charged in adult court. In such situations, the minor can ask to have their case sent down to juvenile court, a process referred to in Maryland law as a “reverse waiver.”

Court of Appeals Clarifies Factors Governing “Reverse Waivers”

There are five factors a judge must consider when deciding whether a reverse waiver is appropriate:

  • the child’s age;
  • their mental and physical condition;
  • their “amenability” to a juvenile treatment program;
  • the nature of their alleged crime; and
  • the possible impact on public safety.

In a recently published opinion, Davis v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals emphasized that these five factors “are not in competition with one another.” They were all interrelated and “converged” on the third factor, amenability to treatment. The Court expressly rejected the practice of some trial courts in focusing on the final two factors–the nature of the alleged crime and public safety–to the exclusion of amenability.

The Davis case itself presented just such a scenario. In 2017, a 16-year-old boy–the defendant–was charged with participating in a home invasion that yielded allegations of attempted murder, assault, and use of a firearm to commit a violent crime. The nature of some of these charges required charging the defendant in adult court. The defendant then asked for a reverse waiver to juvenile court.

The trial judge denied the reverse waiver. The judge cited the “horrific” nature of the alleged offense, notably the fact that the home invasion “did not result in a murder, because it very easily could have.” The judge further viewed the defendant as a “considerable threat to public safety.”

The defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to assault and the firearms charge. The judge sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison but suspended all but five. The defendant reserved his right to appeal, arguing that the trial judge failed to consider the “amenability to treatment” factor in denying his reverse waiver.

The Court of Appeals agreed. The appellate court said it was “evident” from the trial judge’s remarks that they “did not consider amenability–the ultimate determinative factor that takes into account each of the other four factors–properly. As a result, the defendant, who is now approaching his 21st birthday, was entitled to a new hearing on whether the disposition of his guilty plea should be heard by the juvenile court. If the trial court still denies the reverse waiver after reconsideration, the Court of Appeals said the defendant’s prison sentence would still stand.

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.