Juvenile justice reform bills clear Maryland General Assembly, head to governor’s desk

A pair of bills that seek to reform the Maryland juvenile justice system cleared the House of Delegates on Thursday, marking their approval by state lawmakers and sending them to the governor’s desk.

Supporters of the two pieces of legislation call them a way of protecting children and recognizing that they should be treated differently than adults when facing criminal accusations.


Both bills will go to Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, who has not signaled whether he intends to sign the bills.

“The governor will give thoughtful consideration to the legislation when it reaches his desk,” Mike Ricci, a spokesman for his office, said Thursday.


The main piece of legislation, the so-called omnibus bill, would establish new sentencing rules for youth, including a ban on incarceration for minor offenses. It would also set a minimum age for criminal charges, expand access to diversion initiatives and create time limits for probation terms.

That legislation is the result of years of research and discussion, and advocates hope it will help the Department of Juvenile Services focus more resources on the most at-risk children. Opponents argue it goes too far in allowing children to avoid charges or detention even for some serious crimes.

The other bill would add requirements before a police interrogation of a child: An officer would have to tell a parent or guardian beforehand and wouldn’t be allowed to do an interrogation until the child consulted with an attorney.

Critics of the legislation, including some prosecutors, say the mandate for counsel consultation could create a “roadblock” for investigations. But supporters argue it’s a way of ensuring due process for children and making sure they understand their rights.