Like many teenagers charged as adults, Morgan Lane Arnold is fighting to have her case sent to juvenile court, where penalties are more lenient and focused on rehabilitation.
The 15-year-old — charged along with her boyfriend in the May 2013 stabbing death of her father, Howard County businessman and blogger Dennis Lane — already has spent months awaiting trial in an adult jail, an experience juvenile advocates say can have a lasting effect even on defendants who wind up charged as children.
There are 33 crimes — most of them violent — for which defendants may not be tried in juvenile court. Supporters of the system say it's necessary to protect society from violent youngsters and that the youth detention system is not equipped to handle many of these defendants for pretrial confinement.
But in a report issued in 2010, the Just Kids Partnership, an advocacy group, said this get-tough approach that emerged in Maryland about 20 years ago has failed because it exposes children to the dangers of adult jails, doesn't curb crime and rarely imposes the tough punishments cited by supporters.
Their study looked at a sample of Baltimore City cases in which juveniles were charged as adults. Of 122 cases that had been resolved, only 10 percent of the defendants were sentenced to time in adult prisons. More than two-thirds were either moved to the juvenile system or had their cases dismissed.
While waiting for their transfer hearings, juveniles spent an average of nearly five months in jail, the partnership reported. In most jurisdictions in Maryland — including Howard — adult jails are not equipped with units for juveniles awaiting trials or transfer hearings.
Only Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have jails with separate juvenile units.
A separate 2013 study of youngsters charged as adults — but who later had their cases transferred to the juvenile system — showed similar results. A majority of the youth did not receive the toughest penalties in secure detention away from home.
The study of 100 Baltimore City cases produced by Advocates for Children & Youth found only 29 percent were placed away from home. Half were assigned to some form of community supervision, and 20 percent had their cases dismissed.
Both organizations recommend that the current system be replaced by one that treats all defendants under 18 as juveniles, allowing prosecutors to argue for certain cases to be moved to adult court.
Morgan Arnold spent seven months in isolation from the adult population at the Howard County Detention Center, then was moved in early December to the adolescent unit of Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville. She is to remain there pending a hearing on her transfer, now scheduled for April 2.
Charged as adults
In Maryland, youth are charged as adults for crimes including the following, and for conspiracy to commit them:
Ages 14 or older:
•First-degree murder (and attempted first-degree murder)
•First-degree rape (and attempted first-degree rape)
•First-degree sex offense (and attempted first-degree sex offense)
Ages 16 or older:
•Abduction or kidnapping
•Second-degree murder (and attempted second-degree murder)
•Second-degree rape (and attempted second-degree rape)
•Robbery with a dangerous weapon
•Second- or third-degree sexual offense (and attempted offenses)
•Attempted robbery with a deadly weapon