The state’s attorneys from two of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions proposed a raft of changes to criminal laws, including recent juvenile reforms, they say will help them hold offenders accountable and enhance public safety.

Democrats Ivan Bates of Baltimore and Prince George’s County prosecutor Aisha Braveboy made the announcement in Annapolis weeks ahead of a legislative session where revisiting juvenile justice requirements will be a top issue.

Their legislative priority package — distributed on a glossy 8-by-10-inch brochure featuring photos of Bates and Braveboy — includes requiring a defense attorney to be present for youth interrogations; increasing probation violation penalties for teens under community supervision; creating a statewide registry for those convicted of domestic violence; and expanding the state’s gang statutes to crack down on organized crime rings using juveniles to commit crimes.

Braveboy, a former delegate and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said the package prioritizes accountability and “tough but fair” sentencing.

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“But it all starts with accountability,” she said.

Prosecutors would like to require a youth defendant’s lawyer to be physically present during an interrogation, which would amend a 2021 juvenile justice reform. While current law requires police to allow youth an attorney consultation prior to an interrogation, these consultations typically happen over the phone. Law enforcement says defense attorneys almost always advise youths not to talk to them, and that’s why prosecutors are requesting the change.

Police and prosecutors have said the Child Interrogation Protection Act limits their ability to investigate cases and denies them access to timely information from minors who may have knowledge but may not have been a party to a crime. A provision in the law does allow police to waive the required phone call if they believe public safety is at stake.

Bates said requiring the defendant’s attorney to be physically present would “level the playing field” by giving suspects the ability to cooperate with police with their attorney present.

“My prosecutor is going to be down there with the police,” he said. “We’re going to listen to whoever wants to talk to us. We will listen, and that’s how we be able to level the playing field.”

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This summer, Bates called the interrogation law “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever read” before slightly walking back his comments and expressing optimism about working with lawmakers and the governor “to ensure that we have laws that can keep residents safe.”

Maryland Public Defender Natasha M. Dartigue said the hotline allows attorneys to make children aware of their constitutional rights prior to interrogation.

“There is no reason to add additional burdens to limit the use of technology when communicating these rights,” she said in a statement. “To do so is contrary to the fundamental safeguards and protections of the right to counsel.”

Independent of the proposed changes, Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender, the party fielding those calls, has recently reported it’s short staffed.

Alice Wilkerson, speaking on behalf of a the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition, said the current public defender hotline is “efficient and effective” and that the prosecutors’ proposal “willfully ignores the fact that the Office of the Public Defender is already understaffed and underfunded at a time when the state is facing significant budget cuts.”

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Bates and Braveboy will support a measure to require the juvenile services department notify courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys within 24 hours of a youth violating their GPS monitoring perimeter.

Other suggestions made by Braveboy and Bates would extend the probation period for youth who commit misdemeanors while carrying a firearm to 18 months from six, and for those guilty of violent crimes to four years from two. Additionally, teens could face probation violations for not participating in court-ordered treatment programs.

Wilkerson said this logic flies in the face of national best practices that say shorter probationary periods “front-loaded with support and services are most effective at changing behavior.”

Instead, she said lawmakers should fund effective community service programs through the Department of Juvenile Services.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates present their legislative agenda in Annapolis Thursday.

The proposals “focus on what’s best for prosecutors and the dysfunctional criminal legal system rather than what’s best for kids and public safety,” she said.

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An additional public safety proposal attempts to crack down on organized crime. Braveboy said a new wave of “sophisticated” operators are using juveniles to commit crimes, like carjackings. Combatting this means giving prosecutors the ability to indict individuals participating in smaller organized crime rings, she said.

Both Bates and Braveboy said they’d support a bill that gives state’s attorneys the authority to request a revised sentence for an incarcerated person. State’s attorneys can file such a motion now, but only after a person has served a minimum of five years. This law would allow prosecutors leeway to file a motion at any time.

The joint news conference comes weeks ahead of Maryland’s legislative session, where juvenile justice reforms are expected to face scrutiny. Lawmakers charged with reviewing criminal justice laws have held a series of hearings in recent months.

Law enforcement officers, state’s attorneys, the Department of Juvenile Services and nonprofit youth services providers have shared with legislators in the powerful House Judiciary Committee what’s working and what’s not.

Over the past 10 years, the number of juvenile arrests have declined in Maryland and so has the number of youth held in state detention facilities. But critics have blamed recent reforms aimed to further reduce the number of teens held in jail for an uptick in certain types of crime, such as handgun violations and carjackings.

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Adding kindling to the heated issue is a spree of auto thefts. Car theft, a nonviolent property violation, is up 220% this year in Baltimore City alone. The wave was fueled by a viral social media video that taught watchers how to easily steal Kias and Hyundais. The thefts have been reported nationally but have driven nonviolent crime statistics in Maryland.

The law enforcement community has said recent juvenile justice reforms make it harder to investigate and resolve crimes and hold youth accountable, but advocates have said it’s too soon to make changes.

Brenda Wintrode covers state government, agencies and politics. Before joining The Baltimore Banner, Wintrode wrote an award winning series of long form investigations for Wisconsin Watch. 

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