☀️🏖️ Better weather is ahead, join us for Legal Summit in Ocean City this summer! Early Bird registration ends March 31, 2024, so lock in your registration today.

The Maryland State Bar Association’s Public Awareness Committee has prepared this information. It is intended to inform the public and not serve as legal advice.  

What is Juvenile Court?

In Maryland, a child under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. Since state law requires that a juvenile who commits a crime be treated differently than an adult, juvenile cases are handled in the Juvenile Court system.

What Kinds of Cases Go to Juvenile Court?

  • Delinquency – A child is delinquent if he or she commits a crime. Some children may be treated as adults in Circuit Court rather than Juvenile Court, depending upon the severity of the crime, the child’s age, his or her prior juvenile record, their mental and physical condition and other factors.
  • Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) – A child is in need of assistance if he or she has been physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected by a parent or other person who is responsible for the child’s care.
  • Child in Need of Supervision (CINS) – A child is in need of supervision if he or she has committed a crime applicable only to children, such as truancy, violation of curfew laws, running away, habitual disobedience and ungovernable behavior.
  • Termination of Parental Rights and Adoptions – If the Juvenile Court has already found a child to be CINA or CINS, and the Department of Social Services (DSS) has located an adoptive family for the child, the Juvenile Court will handle the case to terminate the natural parent’s rights and allow for the child’s adoption.
  • Citations – When a juvenile violates Maryland’s alcoholics beverage laws, by possessing alcohol, misrepresenting his or her age to purchase alcohol or drinking or possessing intoxicating beverages on school premises, the juvenile receives a citation requiring them to appear in Juvenile Court.
  • Contributing – An adult, who contributes, encourages or causes a child to be delinquent, CINA or CINS may be charged with the crime of contributing in Juvenile Court.
  • Interstate Compact – The Juvenile Court handles cases of children who run away across state lines. The Interstate Compact on Juveniles governs these cases.
  • Compulsory Public School Attendance – The Juvenile Court may handle cases arising under Maryland’s Compulsory Public School Attendance laws.

Are All Juvenile Cases Sent to Juvenile Court?

No. Intake officers at Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services (DJJ) review most juvenile cases before deciding which ones to send to Juvenile Court. After reviewing a case and offering the child and his family to discuss it, the intake officer may close the case, send the child to a diversion program for treatment and guidance or refer the case to the State’s Attorney’s office for formal charges in Juvenile Court. Very serious cases involving a child 14 years of age or older bypass the intake officer and the Juvenile Court and go directly to the Circuit Court where the juvenile is charged as an adult.

Are All Cases Involving Abused or Neglected Children Sent to Juvenile Court?

No. Reports of child abuse and neglect are sent to the local Department of Social Services (DSS) for further investigation. If DSS is unable to prevent the placement of children outside the home or is unsuccessful in its efforts to work with families to prevent abuse and neglect, DSS may start a CINA case by filing a CINA petition in the Juvenile Court.

What Happens in Juvenile Court?

In Juvenile Court, depending upon the practices of the different localities in Maryland, cases are handled by a judge or by a family magistrate.

Emergency Detention or Shelter Care Hearing

In emergency cases where the child’s well-being may be threatened or the child is considered dangerous, the first step is a detention or shelter care hearing. The judge or family magistrate may place the child in a children’s detention center or temporary foster care home for a period of up to 30 days before the child’s adjudicatory hearing.

Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary hearing, the judge or family magistrate tells the child and his or her parents what the charges are by giving them a petition listing the charges. The judge or family magistrate also determines whether they have an attorney. At each stage of the case, the child/and or their parents have the right to an attorney.

Adjudicatory Hearing

An adjudicatory hearing is the trial on the charges. Each side, the State’s Attorney in a delinquency case or DSS in a CINA or CINS case and the child and parents may present evidence such as witness testimony or documents. After hearing the evidence, the judge or family magistrate decides if the charges are proved. There are no juries in Juvenile Court. Adjudicatory hearings must take place within 60 days of the date the petition was given to the child and their parents.

Disposition Hearing

A disposition hearing occurs after the adjudicatory hearing if the charges are proved. At the disposition hearing, the judge or family magistrate determine what type of treatment or rehabilitation plan would best serve the child. The judge or family magistrate could place the child on probation or under the supervision while living at home or remove the child from home to a children’s detention center or foster care home. Parents may also be ordered to participate in a treatment plan.

Review Hearing

A review hearing is held several months after the disposition hearing to determine if the treatment plan should be modified or terminated.

Restitution Hearing

A restitution hearing is a separate hearing held in delinquency cases after the adjudicatory and disposition hearings. If the State’s Attorney can prove that as a result of a child’s crime, the victim incurred counseling, medical, dental, hospital or funeral expenses or the victim’s personal property was stolen, damaged or destroyed, the judge or family magistrate may order payment of restitution in an amount not to exceed $10,000. Payment of restitution may be a part of a child’s probation.

Juvenile Court © 1986, MSBA, Inc. Revised 1998, 2015