A bipartisan push to tweak juvenile interrogations and calls for more DJS transparency

Written By: Fox News Baltimore
Jan 16, 2024

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WBFF) — Bills are being drafted and introduced that supporters say would address several concerns with the Department of Juvenile Services and how juvenile cases are handled in Maryland.

The first day of the 2024 General Assembly Session was a flurry of friendly conversations among lawmakers, welcome-backs, and bill introductions; several bipartisan bills were introduced targeting the Child Interrogation Protection Act, the length of probation for young offenders, and how the intake process works within the Department of Juvenile Services.

Top prosecutors from around Maryland, including State’s Attorneys from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Prince George’s County, and Howard County, participated in a FOX45 News roundtable discussion of legislative priorities and juvenile crime.

Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney in Baltimore County, said that the way the interrogation process works under the current law can hamper investigations since defense attorneys often tell their clients not to talk with law enforcement, even if the juvenile wasn’t responsible for a crime.

“Shouldn’t their parents have more say than the public defenders,” Shellenberger said.

Agreeing with that sentiment, Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties, sponsored a bill along with Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R- Somerset, Worcester, and Wicomico Counties, and Sen. Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s County, to alter how the interrogation act can operate.

Under the bipartisan push, a parent would be allowed to substitute for an attorney’s permission for a juvenile to answer questions from law enforcement. Sen. West said he wants his bill to move forward because he believes parents should have a larger role in the process, and ultimately, decide what’s best for their child.

“Most parents want their kids to get out of trouble and they would rather have the kids tell the police the truth and then deal with it back home as a family than have the juvenile talk to some lawyer they’ve never met and just talked to over the telephone,” West said. “Our hope is that if we present a bipartisan package to the general assembly that they will look upon it favorably.”

Sen. West said the interrogation piece is part of a larger juvenile justice package that he’s working on with the bipartisan group of state senators. In any legislative session, ambitious plans often get curtailed during negotiations, but Sen. West said if some of the proposals move forward, it’s a start.

“We’re not going to get all 16 bills enacted, but if we get five or six bills enacted, that’s five or six bills more than we’ve enacted in the nine years I’ve been in Annapolis,” he said.

But he’s not the only one pushing for change within the juvenile justice arena. There have been several other ideas floated by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy that include requiring the defense attorney to be present in person during questioning of a juvenile and requiring a juvenile facing certain violent crime or auto theft offenses to see a judicial magistrate or judge for a decision about charges.

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