Due Process Denied: Juvenile Pretrial Detention in Rural Maryland

By: Sarah McHenry

On Thursday mornings, when St. Mary’s County juvenile court convenes for preliminary inquiries, most children arrive unfettered by any form of detention. However, by the time each juvenile leaves, every single one will be subjected to community detention or detained in a youth facility until their adjudication date, in violation of due process.[1]

In Maryland, a juvenile preliminary inquiry is commonly compared to an adult arraignment; the judge reads the charges to the child and explains his or her right to counsel.[2] The State’s Attorney may also argue for the child to be committed to Department of Juvenile Services (“DJS”) custody to be detained in a youth facility or placed on community detention, either with or without electronic monitoring.[3] In considering whether the child should be committed to DJS custody, the court must consider whether the child is likely a danger to themselves or others, and whether the child is likely to leave the jurisdiction.[4]

Every weekday, juveniles across Maryland are subjected to various forms of detention after judges make such findings, prior to a finding of any involvement beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, neighboring jurisdiction Charles County regularly detains and sends children to Cheltenham Youth Facility before trial.[5] However, many children in Charles County alleged to be delinquent on the morning of their preliminary inquiry hearing are also free to return home with their parents without any form of detention. What makes St. Mary’s County so unique is that every single juvenile – regardless of the charge, prior record, or conditions at home – is subjected to some form of detention at the preliminary inquiry.[6]

The judge in St. Mary’s County finds authority in the Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, § 3-8A-15(b)(1), which states that “if a child is taken into custody … the child may be placed in detention or community detention prior to a hearing if such action is required to protect the child or others.”[7] The judge places unduly weight on § 3-8A-15(b)(1) and considers the child in need of supervision solely because of the charges brought by the State’s Attorney.[8] The judge then proceeds to make a finding on whether the child should be placed on home detention or electronic monitoring, or detained at a youth facility.[9]

The practice of not affording a juvenile a meaningful opportunity to advocate why he or she should not be placed on any form of detention violates the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment.[10] The judges of St. Mary’s County have not properly weighed the private interests of the juvenile with the risks of erroneous deprivation and the Government interest, according to the analytical framework established by the Supreme Court in Mathews v. Eldridge.[11] As a jurisdiction practice, this continued practice of St. Mary’s County sets a dangerous precedent with far-reaching implications for juvenile due process.

The 14th Amendment states, in part, “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”[12] In United States v. Arzberger, a federal court identified the ability to “move about at will” as a constitutionally-protected liberty interest when he challenged his mandated curfew and electronic monitoring.[13] Once a protected liberty interest has been identified, courts must apply the analytical framework established by the Supreme Court in Mathews v. Eldridge to assess whether procedural due process is constitutionally required.[14]

“First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government’s interest.”[15]

The Arzberger court then explained that because the monitoring program was mandatory, the risk that a defendant would be erroneously deprived of the right to move around freely was extremely high.[16] While the court acknowledged the Government had a legitimate interest in ensuring the safety of the community, the court ruled the program violated the Due Process Clause because it mandated the restriction of liberty without providing sufficient procedural protections.[17]

Every juvenile should have a meaningful opportunity to advocate for their individual freedom at their preliminary inquiry, regardless of the severity of their charge. The freedom to move about at will is a constitutionally-protected liberty interest. Because the judge of St. Mary’s County juvenile court subjects every allegedly delinquent child to detention without permitting argument, the risk of erroneous deprivation is substantial.

The State has legitimate interests in protecting both the child and the public and can detain a child prior to an adjudicatory hearing.[18] However, the Supreme Court emphasized in Schall v. Martin that the state’s interest in pretrial detention was only balanced by the extensive due process afforded to the minors – including the opportunity to refute the allegations of probable cause and oppose any form of recommended detention.[19] In St. Mary’s County, juveniles are not afforded any meaningful opportunity to challenge detention. The utter lack of due process for juveniles in this county disrupts our “foundation of individual freedom.”[20]


[1] See Md. Cts.& Jud. Proc. §3-8A-01(h)(1)-(2).

[2] A juvenile preliminary inquiry is also known as an “initial appearance,” depending on the Maryland jurisdiction.

[3] See Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. §3-8A-15(b); Md. Cts & Jud. Proc. §3-8A-01(h)(1)-(2).

[4] See Md. Cts & Jud. Proc. §3-8A-15(b).

[5] See Cheltenham Youth Facility, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, 2014, http://djs.maryland.gov/Documents/Cheltenham.pdf

[6] The judge has made limited exceptions in the past for emancipated minors or young adults attending college.

[7] See also Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. §3-802.

[8] See Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. §3-8A-15(b).

[9] See id.

[10] U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1.

[11] Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1972).

[12] U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1.

[13] 424 U.S. at 334; United States v. Arzberger, 592 F.Supp.2d 590, 600 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).

[14] 424 U.S. at 334.

[15] See id.

[16] 592 F.Supp.2d at 601.

[17] See id.

[18] See Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 766 (1982); Schall v. Martin, 467 U.S. 253, 264 (1984).

[19] See id. at 265.

[20] In Re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 27 (1967).