Baltimore's state's attorney's office now acknowledges that it made a "mistake" in the case of a teen-ager who slipped between its juvenile and adult systems three days before he is accused of killing an East Baltimore man.
The case, some prosecutors say, underscores the problems caused by the separation of juvenile and adult criminal databases -- a dual system set up to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records as required by state law.
Tyrone Beane, 17, attended a routine juvenile court hearing Jan. 14 at which prosecutors in the juvenile unit were unaware that the boy recently had been arrested on adult charges of smacking a man on the head with a gun and sticking the weapon in his mouth.
Had they known about that arrest, prosecutors say, they would have urged the juvenile court judge to detain Beane, who had been under electronic monitoring and was supposed to remain close to home. Three days later, police charge, he fatally shot a 25-year-old man.
"This is a public safety issue," said Janet S. Hankin, an assistant state's attorney in the juvenile division who advocates merging the computer systems.
"You don't want kids back out on the street thumbing their noses at the system. They think little of the juvenile justice system because they know they can lie and manipulate it," she said.
Juvenile unit officials initially said last week that prosecutors have no way of knowing when a youth is charged in the adult system. But they recently acknowledged that they are supposed to know when a juvenile is charged as an adult with a handgun crime.
In this case, they didn't check their records in time to present that information to the court.
"The normal protocol was not followed. Our information was not checked," said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "Someone in the unit should have done a search. We made a mistake."
The system for learning about adult charges of handgun violations does not provide instant information. Twice a week prosecutors at Central Booking and Intake Center, where criminal suspects are taken, send such information to the juvenile unit by courier. Hankin is responsible for ensuring that the information is entered by hand into a log, and then into the appropriate juvenile computer file.
Within a week of receiving the information from central booking, juvenile unit officials say, the information should show up in their computer system.
Beane's juvenile hearing Jan. 14 was 10 days after they received the information. Beane was arrested and charged Dec. 31 in the handgun assault.
But an "overworked" secretary did not pull the computer records before Beane's hearing, officials said. The prosecutor failed to realize that the records had not been pulled until after the hearing.
In January, there were 15 cases of juveniles being charged as adults with handgun offenses, officials say.
Prosecutors say Beane's case is unusual, but there's no way to tell how many others have fallen through the cracks.
Although juvenile prosecutors acknowledged later last week that they could find out about all crimes by checking adult system databases, they say that's not easy or convenient given their caseload.
The only adult charges they are alerted to are handgun offenses because they will serve as the prosecutors in adult court. They are not notified about other possible offenses -- such as murders, rapes and carjackings -- because those are handled by prosecutors in the adult system.
They said they would like to know about other juveniles being charged as adults, but there is no system in place to do that.
Merging the adult and juvenile databases would require a change in Maryland law, which Hankin and Wright say is needed.
"If a person is in both systems, there's no computer system that makes the match. A human being has to make the match," Hankin said. "What we need is to have the systems automatically talk to each other to prevent people from falling through the cracks."
But neither the Department of Juvenile Justice nor Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy wants to see the confidentiality of juvenile records compromised.
"We're talking about kids, and they make mistakes," Juvenile Justice spokesman Lee Towers said. Jessamy said the premise of confidentiality for juvenile records is "a valid one."
"The laws were initially put into place to protect the privacy of certain people and on the premise of rehabilitation of juveniles," she said. "So youthful indiscretions do not bar people from future productivity in life."