Baltimore, MD - Nov. 21, 2020 - I was 25 years old, a young mother of two toddlers working as an Assistant State’s Attorney and prosecuting juveniles for committing crimes in Baltimore City. I was horrified by what I witnessed: Child after child was coming through the juvenile detention center after being failed. They were failed by their families, they were failed by the system, and they were failed by society.
Five years later, I am still horrified. As a prosecutor in the adult system, I continue seeing many of the same individuals, but this time they are committing crimes as adults. We failed these children and continue to fail them. However, as a mother to two grade-school children, I learned a very important lesson: when a child does something wrong, we as adults must ensure the child faces appropriate consequences and understands that the consequences are a direct result of the child’s wrongdoing. Equally as important is the need to rehabilitate the child; the need to show the child we still love him or her, and we are going to continue to ensure the child grows into a productive member of society. I believe that proportionate and appropriate consequences coupled with rehabilitation are the keys to stop this terrible cycle of failure in many of our youth.
Unfortunately, this is not the current reality of the system. Many juveniles are being allowed to get away with crimes and harming others. We are failing our children. If we continue to allow these children to harm others without appropriate consequences and without rehabilitation, I will very likely come across these children in the adult criminal system in the future.
We have recently seen a frightening amount of violent crime committed by juveniles in Baltimore City. Per a statement released by the Baltimore Police Department, “Two of the suspects have been charged as adults, while 12 of the suspects were charged as juveniles and have since been released.” Many of these suspects, as young as 13 years old, pointed a gun towards random victims and robbed these victims. I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma these victims and their families experienced and will continue to experience as a result of these acts of violence.
Releasing 12 of the suspects back onto the streets of Baltimore City within days of the suspects allegedly committing such violence is not ensuring that there are appropriate consequences, is not rehabilitating these children, and is definitely not keeping our citizens safe.
Currently in the State of Maryland, when “a child at least 14 years old [is] alleged to have done an act that, if committed by an adult, would be a crime punishable by life imprisonment, as well as all other charges against the child arising out of the same incident”, that child is charged in the adult courts. Also, when “a child at least 16 years old [is] alleged to have committed any of the following crimes, as well as all other charges against the child arising out of the same incident”, the child is charged in the adult courts (Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-8A-03).
(iii) Second degree murder;
(iv) Manslaughter, except involuntary manslaughter;
(v) Second degree rape;
(vi) Robbery under § 3-403 of the Criminal Law Article;
(vii) Third degree sexual offense under § 3-307(a)(1) of the Criminal Law Article;
(viii) A crime in violation of § 5-133, § 5-134, § 5-138, or § 5-203 of the Public Safety Article;
(ix) Using, wearing, carrying, or transporting a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime under § 5-621 of the Criminal Law Article;
(x) Use of a firearm under § 5-622 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xi) Carjacking or armed carjacking under § 3-405 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xii) Assault in the first degree under § 3-202 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xiii) Attempted murder in the second degree under § 2-206 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xiv) Attempted rape in the second degree under § 3-310 of the Criminal Law Article;
(xv) Attempted robbery under § 3-403 of the Criminal Law Article; or
(xvi) A violation of § 4-203, § 4-204, § 4-404, or § 4-405 of the Criminal Law Article.”
(Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-8A-03)
There is a caveat to this. A ‘reverse waiver’, also known as a ‘transfer’, can be filed on behalf of the juvenile in an attempt to give the juvenile courts jurisdiction. If granted, the juvenile’s case will be transferred to the juvenile system. Pursuant to Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-8A-06, “The court may not waive its jurisdiction under this section until after it has conducted a waiver hearing, held prior to an adjudicatory hearing and after notice has been given to all parties.”
In determining whether or not the juvenile’s case will be transferred to the juvenile courts, the courts must consider the following criteria:
“(1) Age of the child;
(2) Mental and physical condition of the child;
(3) The child's amenability to treatment in any institution, facility, or program available to delinquents;
(4) The nature of the offense and the child's alleged participation in it; and
(5) The public safety (Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-8A-06).”
In simpler terms, a juvenile age 14 years or older who commits certain crimes that would be punishable by life in prison will be charged as an adult, and a juvenile age 16 or older who commits any one of the more serious crimes listed above will also be charged as an adult. However, if a ‘transfer’ is filed on behalf of the juvenile and it is ruled in his favor, his case would move to juvenile court regardless of the crime he committed.
As I personally observed when I was practicing in the juvenile courts, there are times the courts get this right. However, there are many others times they do not, and those other times put many people’s safety at risk.
I recall in 2016 when 29 year old Robert Ponsi was riding his bicycle in Baltimore City and 15 year old Prince Greene admittedly fatally stabbed him before robbing him of his possessions. I recall the State’s Attorney charging Prince Greene as an adult. I recall sitting in the courtroom during his waiver hearing and the Judge determining his case should be transferred to the juvenile courts. I recall the State’s Attorney fervently objecting to this transfer. I recall the victim’s family and friends sitting in the courtroom listening to the Judge make this determination.
I recall in 2018, Prince Greene, barely two years after murdering a man who was riding his bike in the streets of Baltimore City, being released from the juvenile detention center. I recall shortly after Prince Greene’s release in 2018, he was charged with second degree assault and illegal possession of a handgun.
We failed this child. We failed society. This child did not face appropriate consequences coinciding with murdering another individual. This child was not rehabilitated. We did not keep our citizens safe. Unfortunately, this is just one example of many.
When a crime is committed and charged in adult courts, the public has access to the court records. There is transparency. When a juvenile commits a crime that is handled by the juvenile courts, the public is kept in the dark. The public cannot access the records. The public cannot determine whether the juvenile is facing appropriate consequences. The public cannot determine whether the juvenile is properly being rehabilitated. The public cannot determine whether they are safe.
While we try to do what is right by these children and the public, we must remember that these juveniles are still children. The personal information, including name and contact information of these juveniles, should not be released to the public. However, we must still find other ways to do right by these children and the public.
5th District Councilman Isaac Schleifer called on our state leaders to “introduce legislation at the next session to create a database where victims, witnesses and communities affected by crime can track cases and see all information surrounding a particular case and any prior incidents by the same suspect, with the exception of the juvenile’s name and contact information.” I fully agree. There must be transparency. I therefore am sponsoring a bill this session that would require this database be created statewide.
We must do what’s right by our children. We must ensure our children face appropriate consequences when harming others. We must ensure our children are rehabilitated. We must ensure we are keeping our citizens safe. Fair and appropriate consequences coupled with rehabilitation is the way to achieve this.