187 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Juvenile courts in Maryland continue hearing cases during COVID-19
“…Our main goal remains the rehabilitation of juveniles and the safety of the community, while maintaining the court’s mission of providing efficient and effective justice for all.”
Circuit courts throughout Maryland are hearing juvenile cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrative Judge William Tucker, Howard County Circuit Court and chair of the Maryland Judiciary’s Juvenile Justice Subcommittee, is one of the many judges hearing local juvenile cases remotely, along with juvenile court magistrates.
“Juvenile court has continued operations during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Judge Tucker. “Although it is operating remotely right now, our main goal remains the rehabilitation of juveniles and the safety of the community, while maintaining the court’s mission of providing efficient and effective justice for all.”
Juvenile court cases involve cases concerning children under age 18 who are alleged to be delinquent. In Maryland, a child is considered delinquent if the child has committed an act that would be a crime if it were committed by an adult and requires the court’s guidance, treatment, or rehabilitation.
The Maryland Judiciary is in Phase II of its five-phase reopening plan. Under Phase II of the courts’ reopening plan, juvenile courts are not conducting fact-finding hearings (called adjudications) or disposition hearings.
The juvenile courts are hearing cases involving children younger than 18 years old who are alleged to have committed crimes that an adult could be jailed for, and who have been arrested and placed in detention. The court decides where the child will be placed in the period before the adjudication is held – whether the child will remain in detention, be released to a parent or guardian, or be placed with a parent or guardian on community detention. In reaching its decision, the court looks to guidance in the Court of Appeals’ April 13 Administrative Order, which encourages the court to limit detention or commitment, unless it is necessary to protect the safety of the child or the safety of others.
To help protect the health of the child, family, attorneys, and court personnel, the hearings are conducted remotely, using platforms like Skype or Go to Meeting. The technology is handled by the court’s information technology staff. While Judge Tucker or the magistrate conducts the hearing from the circuit courthouse in Ellicott City, the child participates remotely from the detention center, and the child’s parent and attorney, and the state’s attorney, participate from work or home. A parent who does not have internet access can participate by telephone.
The court is mindful of the confidentiality of juvenile court proceedings. Hearings are conducted individually to make sure that the proceeding is available only to the people involved in the case.
Sometimes the decision is that a child cannot be released back home or into community detention. Administrative Judge Michael Stamm, St. Mary’s County Circuit Court, and chair of the Maryland Judicial Council’s Juvenile Law Committee, reports that juvenile courts are keeping their attention on these situations and holding reviews of the detention at least every 14 days. A review may be held more frequently if the child’s attorney, or another party, asks for a more frequent review.
“It is critical that we hear emergency juvenile cases during the COVID-19 public health emergency, not only because it is required by law, but because we are dealing with urgent matters involving the well-being, rehabilitation, and safety of young people and also the safety of our community,” said Judge Stamm. “Our goal is to fairly and efficiently process juvenile cases while ensuring that we rehabilitate delinquent juveniles.”
Juvenile courts also are keeping abreast of the COVID-19 situation in facilities where children may be placed and the services they may be receiving in the community. Weekly conference calls are being held between the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), juvenile court judges, magistrates, court personnel, and Maryland Judiciary Administrative Office of the Courts staff. These calls keep juvenile courts aware of the health of children and staff in placement facilities, the services being provided in placements and in the community, and DJS’ re-opening. The calls have been so successful that the court and DJS plan to continue them during the phased reopening period and on a less frequent basis after the courts and state agencies resume full operations.
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(June 18, 2020)