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Maryland lawmakers should vote yes on ‘The YES Act’

Editorial Advisory Board//March 24, 2023

Maryland lawmakers should vote yes on ‘The YES Act’

By Editorial Advisory Board

//March 24, 2023

The Youth Equity and Safety Act, SB93/HB96, seeks to eliminate the practice of automatically charging minors as adults in Maryland.  The proposed bipartisan bill would end the practice by repealing statutory provisions that prevent cases from beginning in the juvenile court for children alleged to have committed certain offenses.

Under current law, children as young as 14 are automatically charged as adults for serious crimes including murder, rape and other sex offenses. Children over 15 are automatically charged in adult court for any of 33 enumerated offenses.

Proponents of the bill argue that automatically charging children as adults delays treatment, rehabilitation and other vital services offered by the Department of Juvenile Services. Chief Sponsor Senator Jill P. Carter, who first sponsored this legislation 13 years ago, contends that the proposed bill is “truly the moral move for Maryland moving forward” as we must “treat children in the criminal justice system the same way we treat them in the other areas.”

Maryland prohibits children from smoking, drinking, voting, contracting, and numerous activities reserved for adults, including serving on a jury in the very court system in which they can be charged and convicted. Last year, the Maryland legislature passed a law prohibiting minors from marrying.  This session, a bill is moving through the assembly that would prevent minors from being charged with crimes if there is evidence they are being trafficked.

Jenny Egan, chief attorney for the Office of Public Defender’s juvenile division, calls the current laws of how juveniles are charged “racist and inhumane.”  More than 85% of the children automatically charged as adults are Black. Maryland sends more children to adult court than 48 other states and incarcerates a higher percentage of black men than any other state in the USA.

The bill is cross-filed in the House of Delegates by sponsor Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield and has gained significant support, but is it enough? Session is nearing an end and neither chamber has brought the bill to a committee vote.

Opponents of the Youth Equity and Safety Act, such as Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, call the proposed bill “dangerous.”  In support of his position, Shellenberger references the 2008 case of Nicholas Waggoner Browning, a juvenile who shot and killed his parents and two younger brothers.

Under the bill, prosecutors would retain the ability to try cases, such as Browning’s, in adult court. It would simply be a matter of requesting a waiver hearing wherein a judge would decide which jurisdiction is more appropriate. The state would need to show, by a preponderance of evidence, the child is not amenable to rehabilitation by the juvenile court. The court would consider: the child’s age, physical condition, mental condition, and amenability for treatment.

In most serious cases, it is more probable than not they would meet this burden. It’s merely a matter of burden shifting – currently the burden is on the child to prove amenability to treatment in the juvenile system.

This board previously published an editorial in support of comprehensive juvenile justice reform and in support of passing The Youth Equity and Safety Act, also referred to as “The YES Act.”  We believe it is vital to advancement of juvenile justice reform, public safety, and an anti-racist society that treats all children, even those that commit bad acts, equitably.

Thus, we urge the General Assembly to act in the best interest of our youth and society by voting in favor of “The YES Act.”

Editorial Advisory Board members Arthur F. Ferguson and Debra G. Schubert did not participate in this opinion.


James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Eric Easton

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Susan F. Martielli

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

H. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.




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