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Maryland Juvenile Defense Law

What are the differences between juvenile and criminal law?

Juvenile law refers to any traditional criminal charge brought against a minor.

The criminal justice system for adults and juveniles differs in many ways.  The main difference between Maryland juvenile law and Maryland criminal law is the overarching objective.

The goal of juvenile law is to protect, rehabilitate, and reform minor offenders so that they can become a normal and functioning adult in society. Juvenile courts like to view rulings as a way to improve the minor’s behavior so they will stay out of trouble in the future. One way to accomplish this goal is to focus on alternative sentences, such as probation, parole, and diversionary programs.

Even the legal terminology used in juvenile law reflects this goal through the use of civil terms rather than criminal terms. Juveniles are prosecuted for delinquent acts, whereas adults are prosecuted for crimes. A juvenile is referred to as a respondent, not as a defendant. A juvenile is detained and adjudicated, while an adult is arrested and convicted. A juvenile is generally not charged by an indictment, but by petition. A juvenile will be either involved or not involved in a delinquent act, versus guilty or not guilty of a crime. Finally, sentencing is referred to as disposition in Maryland juvenile law.

The disposition can involve community service, attending drug treatment, education or vocational programs, counseling, or commitment to a juvenile facility. Juvenile rehabilitation programs in Maryland are usually community based or out-of-home.

Despite the differences, several similarities exist between juvenile law and criminal law.

Individuals in both systems have the many of the same legal rights. This includes the right to receive Miranda warnings, the right to an attorney, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, the privilege against self-incrimination, and the right to notice of the charges. Additionally, the prosecution must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a person can be convicted or adjudicated.

Juvenile adjudications are generally sealed after the respondent reaches the age of 21, but some offenses and dispositions can come back and cause problems even after the age of 21, so it is important to know the possible long-term ramifications of these types of cases.

More information regarding the laws governing Juvenile Court proceedings can be found in Title 3, Subtitles 8 and 8A of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, and in Title 11 of the Maryland Rules of Procedure.

If you are facing juvenile charges you should call Warren S. Alperstein, Andrew I. Alperstein, Chris P. Wheatcroft, or Robert H. Wolf for more information pertaining to juvenile law matters.