Baltimore police, prosecutors point to drop in percentage of juveniles tried in adult court for serious crimes

The percentage of city juveniles charged with serious crimes whose cases are moved from adult to juvenile court has increased drastically in recent years, Baltimore’s top law enforcement officials say in a television show airing Sunday.

On WMAR’s local public affairs show “Square Off” — in an episode entitled “Juveniles Wreaking Havoc” — Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the large majority of juveniles charged with serious crime are granted reverse waivers back to the juvenile system.

The episode is to air Sunday morning, but is available online now.

From 2014 to 2017, there has been a nearly 40 percentage point increase in the number of juveniles charged as adults with serious crimes whose cases are waived to juvenile court, Mosby said on the show.

Maryland law requires that juveniles who are accused of some serious violent crimes — such as murder, carjacking and armed robbery — face charges in the adult system. But judges may grant waivers for those youths to be tried, instead, in the juvenile system. The juvenile court system is supposed to emphasize rehabilitation instead of punishment, and does not detain youths past age 21.

“We are failing these kids,” Mosby said. “Eight-seven percent of the juveniles this year have been transferred back to juvenile court. Thirty-three percent have had three or more deliquencies.The system has failed those young people.”

Asked by The Baltimore Sun for supporting data, the state’s attorney’s office provided the following: In 2014, judges granted 48 percent of waiver motions from juveniles charged as adults who sought to be sent down to the juvenile system. This year, judges have granted 87 percent of those motions — meaning just 13 of 102 juveniles charged as adults will face trial in the adult court system.

Juvenile crimes have received much media attention in recent weeks after several high-profile incidents, including a woman who was struck with boards in South Baltimore, teen boys who were assaulted and robbed while trick-or-treating in Homeland, and a New Jersey family that was assaulted last month while visiting the Inner Harbor.

Panelists on the show said they are not seeking harsh penalties for all juveniles — only those who have committed violent crimes.

“We’re dealing with children, but there’s a big difference between juvenile mischief and juvenile violent crime,” said Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith. “We have to look at it differently and hold them accountable.”

That sentiment was echoed by City Councilman Eric T. Costello.

“This isn’t kids throwing eggs at cars. This is kids using violent weapons to attack innocent people. It’s a problem. It needs to be corrected,” he said. “It doesn’t matter your age. If you’re committing a violent crime, you should not be on the street.”

On the show — which is hosted by veteran broadcaster Richard Sher — Mosby also said that her office is facing a cut of $233,000 from the state Department of Juvenile Services for a unit that handles juvenile cases. Without the funding, Mosby said, she will have to disband a six-person unit called the Immediate Charging Project that quickly reviews juvenile cases.

Asked by The Sun for details, her office released a letter Mosby wrote Friday to Gov. Larry Hogan seeking to restore the funding.

“Those services will cease to exist on nights and weekends,” she wrote of the unit’s work. “I am writing now to request that you override the decision to terminate the agreement given the current challenges with juvenile crime in Baltimore City. The Immediate Charging Project is essential to effective juvenile case processing within the juvenile justice system as it currently exists in Baltimore City.“

Arrests of juveniles accused of crimes are down this year compared with last year, but Baltimore officials say those for serious crime are up.

In the letter, Mosby said that “many of the City’s unsolved violent offenses are believed to have been committed by juveniles.”

“My staff and I regularly attend community meetings where we routinely hear from City residents who are incensed over the number of juvenile crimes occurring in their neighborhoods and the City’s seeming inability to effectively and swiftly tackle the issue,” she wrote. “In fact, according to BPD data, juvenile arrests for murder and attempted murder are up significantly in 2017. From January through the end of August 2017, there were 34 juvenile arrests for murder and attempted murder in Baltimore City. This is more than the total number of juvenile arrests for murder and attempted murder for all of 2015 and 2016 combined.”

In response, Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the state has warned city prosecutors for years that the cut was coming and gave them time to “wind this program down.” He said the lower volume of overall arrests in Baltimore means the unit isn’t as necessary as it once was.

“The Baltimore City State’s Attorney has been repeatedly notified about the potential reduction of these funds dating back to 2015,” he wrote in an email. “This unit was initially funded to deal with a very high volume of youth arrests, however these numbers have declined over 70 percent and now average 5 per day. … No other SAO in the state has such a unit and no other SAO gets funding from” the Department of Juvenile Services.

The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has provided more than $12 million to the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office since 2015, which is more than double any other jurisdiction in Maryland, state officials said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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