Office of the Public Defender, State of Maryland

To the people that's helped me a lot! I really appreciate all the things you all did for me when I was in need the most. I am very grateful that you all did not give up on me even though I continue to get in trouble. I know why you all did not give up on me, because you all saw a lot of good things in me.

-- "Frankie," public defender client

In 1992, Maryland's Office of the Public Defender recognized the need to provide comprehensive and holistic representation for its juvenile clients involved in criminal and delinquency matters. Because of this need to look beyond legal problems, the Office created the Juvenile Client Services Division (JCSD), which involves social workers and specially assigned attorneys on the juvenile public defender defense team. JCSD provides the following range of services.

Youthful Defendant Unit

The Youthful Defendant Unit (YDU) was created in 1995 to address the special circumstances and needs of juvenile defendants charged in criminal court. Although charged as adults, these clients have the opportunity to petition the criminal court to transfer jurisdiction of their cases to juvenile court. Currently staffed with one attorney and one law clerk, YDU represents only a fraction of all transfer-eligible clients in Baltimore City. However, by focusing on these cases, YDU acts as a resource both for other attorneys in the Office of the Public Defender and for those in private practice. YDU emphasizes to lawyers that success in transfer motions often depends on an understanding of programs that would be available to clients if they were adjudicated as delinquents and on the ability to convey the appropriateness of those programs to the court. YDU also assists adult criminal law practitioners, who are often unfamiliar with issues unique to transfer-eligible cases, to identify which cases actually qualify for transfer and the statutory standards applied by the court in considering transfer motions.

By concentrating on this class of cases, YDU is also able to devise or propose improvements to the procedure involved in these cases. For example, a task force of court officials organized by YDU helped to formulate a new protocol for filing transfer motions and producing reports to assist the court in ruling on these motions. YDU plans to compile a comprehensive data base on transfer-eligible cases to facilitate a study of the impact of legislation designed to increase automatic transfers.

Detention Response Unit

The Detention Response Unit (DRU), a unit of assistant public defenders and social workers, works with juvenile clients who are in detention, either pending a court hearing or awaiting placement in a residential facility. Upon receiving a referral from an attorney, DRU identifies any critical circumstances indicating that an alternative to detention might be beneficial or essential. Once the determination is made that respondents are in need of DRU assistance, both the legal and social work services begin.

The DRU social worker researches appropriate residential and community services and completes a psychosocial assessment of the respondent to determine whether any further mental, behavioral, or educational evaluations will be necessary and often makes arrangements for those evaluations. The social worker also prepares treatment plans in conjunction with the attorneys. The DRU social worker is available to present reports in court and to testify at the request of the attorneys.

The DRU attorney investigates the case from a legal perspective. This investigation includes exploring ways in which court-ordered detention can be modified or amended, particularly to allow for community-based alternatives. Whenever necessary, the DRU attorney files exceptions to detention (or review hearings) so that the judge may review the order.

Educational Development Unit

The Educational Development Unit (EDU) addresses educational issues that have an impact on juvenile respondents appearing in Baltimore City Juvenile Court at any stage in the proceedings from arraignment through postdisposition. Upon referral from the attorneys, EDU identifies clients who have special education needs or who have been suspended, expelled, or dropped from school rolls. EDU then gathers all the information necessary to educate and advise clients and their parents or guardians about educational rights and procedures involved in obtaining appropriate school placement. Whenever necessary, EDU will refer clients and their parents or guardians to appropriate community-based programs that provide educational assistance.

The EDU staff consists of an educational specialist (ES) and an educational liaison (EL). The ES performs educational evaluations and assessments, refers clients for specialized (e.g., neurological, psychiatric, psychological, speech and language) services, facilitates and attends Admission Review Dismissal and Local Coordinating Council meetings, educates parents or guardians on special education rights, and testifies in court, at the request of the attorney, regarding clients' educational needs. The ES also conducts psychosocial evaluations for the court.

The EL conducts brief interviews with clients and their families to obtain education-related information, contacts the expulsion and suspension office to determine reasons for disciplinary action, obtains school records, attends expulsion and suspension meetings, educates parents or guardians about educational rights and regulations, and refers age-appropriate clients to general educational development (GED) diploma or alternative education programs.

Client Assessment Recommendation and Evaluation Unit

In the Client Assessment Recommendation and Evaluation (CARE) Unit, social workers develop treatment plans and dispositional alternatives for clients ages 12 to 17. Attorneys can refer clients to CARE for assistance in addressing a wide range of problems and gaining access to needed services. CARE social workers provide the attorneys with complete psychosocial assessments of clients.

CARE social workers prepare transfer-of-jurisdiction summaries for attorneys whose clients are between the ages of 15 and 18 and who are being charged as adult criminals. CARE social workers also provide waiver summaries when the State has petitioned the court to waive juvenile court jurisdiction. These summaries are used to advocate that the juveniles be transferred back to or remain in the juvenile justice system.

CARE social workers are also responsible for complete drug assessments and appropriate treatment recommendations; representation and advocacy for clients at various interagency meetings; investigation of resources and referrals of clients and their families to community-based services; and home, school, and facility visits to interview clients and their families. All reports prepared by CARE social workers can be presented in court, and the social workers are available to testify at the attorneys' discretion.

Innovative Approaches to Juvenile Indigent Defense Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  December 1998