Juvenile Review During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

For those involved in the Maryland court system and its operation, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many delays and uncertainties. Despite the confusion, there is finally hope on the horizon for relief of some detained juveniles as the guidelines for the current state of emergency continue to evolve. The attorneys at Ortega Law are enthusiastic to use this opportunity to exercise their skills in order to help younger clients and their families navigate through their options in these uncertain times.

At the conclusion of four different hearings reviewing detention guidelines over the previous four months, only one of Ortega Law’s juvenile clients was still denied release to be sent to a secure juvenile detention facility. The Juvenile client had been detained since December 2019 and did not have an adjudication date set in her case due to the court’s suspension of trials and adjudication hearings. Yet, upon considerable efforts using Chief Judge Barbera’s April 13, 2020 Order the Office of the Public Defender along with the Department of Juvenile Services (“DJS”) combined with the persistence and persuasiveness of Attorney Windy Ortega, this juvenile client was finally released on home detention at a new review hearing and will await her adjudication date in quarantine with her family.

Currently there are still many juveniles across the state of Maryland who are detained awaiting trial or placement. As of April 24, 2020, DJS had reported 13 cases of confirmed COVID-19 cases, eight staff and five juveniles. While the Office of the Public Defender’s Petition for Appropriate Relief filed in the highest court of Maryland was denied, it prompted a response from the State’s highest court. On April 13th, 2020, Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in Maryland, released an administrative order regarding juveniles who are either detained, committed, or pending placement in juvenile detention facilities.

Chief Judge Barbera’s Order prompted DJS to request Detention Review Hearings throughout Maryland. The Circuit Court, which hears juvenile matters, scheduled reviews of detention through remote means. The Order set out guidance for each judge hearing these reviews and ultimately led to the release of many juveniles throughout the state. For those juveniles that were not released, a review will be held every 14 days that they are detained.

Judges have been directed to consider many factors in any potential juvenile’s release, including, but not limited to, whether the juvenile suffers from a pre-existing condition that renders him or her more vulnerable to COVID-19; whether release of a juvenile would pose any additional threats to their safety, the alleged victims, or the surrounding community; and whether the release of the juvenile during the COVID-19 emergency is in the interest of justice.

The factor that provides the most room for argument is whether the juvenile’s risk to the community can be mitigated to allow for his or her release into the community. Ortega Law’s juvenile client did not have any health conditions that put her at a greater risk to COVID-19 and she did not test positive for COVID-19. However, her potential risk to others could be mitigated with house arrest. In other words, this particular young lady is safely at home with her family as Maryland continues to cope with the international pandemic.

If your child is detained in a juvenile facility, reach out to an attorney at Ortega Law today about his or her possible review of detention. The lawyers at Ortega Law are here to help and we have the experience needed to help you and your child navigate through these challenging times.