In re Thomas J.

Citation811 A.2d 310,372 Md. 50
Decision Date19 November 2002
Docket NumberNo. 67,67
PartiesIn re THOMAS J.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Mary Ann Ince, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, on brief), for petitioner.

Geraldine K. Sweeney, Assistant Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), for respondent. Argued before BELL, C.J., ELDRIDGE, RAKER, WILNER, CATHELL, HARRELL and BATTAGLIA, JJ.


The issue this case presents is whether the constitutional right to a speedy trial applies to juvenile proceedings, where, in this case, there was a delay of three years and four months between the detention of the juvenile and the subsequent adjudicatory hearing. The Circuit Court for Prince George's County, sitting as a juvenile court, found that there was no denial of the right to a speedy trial and, therefore, denied the motion to dismiss filed by Thomas J., the respondent. The Court of Special Appeals, following an independent constitutional appraisal of the undisputed facts, reversed, determining that Thomas J. had been denied his right to a speedy trial. We shall affirm.


Evidence gathered during a police investigation of an attempted robbery led to the arrest of Thomas J. on January 18, 1996. Later that day, Thomas J. was released into the custody of his mother ("Mrs. J.") pending further proceedings. Subsequently, a delinquency petition was filed on May 2, 1996, but because Mrs. J. and Thomas J. had moved, they did not receive the summonses issued on May 8, 1996. The summonses were reissued on two occasions, May 28, 1996 and May 30, 1996. As a result of the failed attempts at service by the State, the petitioner, a writ of attachment was issued on June 24, 1996. This writ was reviewed annually for three years, and finally returned on April 22, 1999—three years and four months after the arrest. At the adjudicatory hearing on May 20, 1999, Thomas J. filed a preliminary Motion to Dismiss, "based upon denial of a speedy trial."

The State argues that neither the Fourteenth, nor the Sixth Amendment is applicable to juvenile delinquency proceedings, in light of the Maryland Juvenile Causes Act ("MJCA"), infra, which already has in place rigid time limitations for the commencement of juvenile proceedings. Moreover, the State argues, Mrs. J. signed a form release requiring her to "immediately notify the Clerk of the Juvenile Court at the Court House, Upper Marlboro, Maryland of any new address for [her] or the child." She failed to do so and, thus, the State submits, the delay should be attributed to Thomas J.:

"And the fact that there had been an outstanding writ, that is not attributable to us. We have absolutely no obligation to go out and find him. That is what a writ is for. That is what a bench warrant is for. In the adult system, we use the bench warrant. Bench warrants can be outstanding for years. And if they are served, they are served. Same thing with a writ. The writ works as a bench warrant in juvenile court."

Thomas J., of course, sees it much differently. Noting that the form release was not admitted into evidence, he disputes that Mrs. J. was notified of an affirmative duty to notify the clerk of the juvenile court of any change of address. Rather, Mrs. J. did what she reasonably could have by giving the detective in the case her phone number at work, notifying that same detective of her change of address, and also in notifying the post office of her change of address. Moreover, even after the move, Thomas J. remained a student in the Prince George's County Public School System. Arguing that both the Fourteenth and Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution should be applicable to juvenile proceedings, and that the delay should be attributed to the State, defense counsel stated:

"I am not aware of what efforts the State made to serve the respondent. But I would venture to guess that there were essentially none. Had the State's Attorney's Office contacted the detective, the detective could have contacted the mother. Had the State's Attorney's Office or their investigators gone to the school, they could have found this man, this respondent. So they are going to have to justify the reasons for why they did not serve the respondent."

Subsequently, Thomas J.'s Motion to Dismiss was denied. Consequently, Thomas J. noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The intermediate appellate court reversed the judgment of the trial court. In re Thomas J., 132 Md.App. 396, 752 A.2d 699 (2000). Balancing the four factors set forth in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 2191, 33 L.Ed.2d 101, 116 (1972) (assessing length of the delay, reasons for the delay, appellant's assertion of his right to a speedy trial, and prejudice to the appellant), that court, In re Thomas J., at 404-12, 752 A.2d at 703-07, opined:

"This length of delay [of more than three years and four months] is especially egregious considering that the opportunity to rehabilitate and treat, the purpose of our juvenile justice system, was lost during some of the more formative years of Thomas's life."
* * * * * *
"[T]he record shows that the State made three attempts to summons Thomas and his mother, contrary to Thomas's contention that the State made only one attempt. Although we recognize that the State probably could have located Thomas and could have issued the writ of body attachment earlier, rather than allow it to remain outstanding for years, we do not find this case to be deliberate and knowing inaction, but rather, `less-than-diligent action.' ... Because the State was less than diligent in finding Thomas, we will weigh the Reasons for Delay factor against the State, although not heavily."
* * * * * *
"It is undisputed that Thomas never asserted his right to a speedy trial, but, rather made a motion to dismiss at the adjudicatory hearing on May 20, 1999. `[A] defendant's failure to demand a speedy trial during the period when he was unaware of the charge, cannot be weighed against him.' Brady v. State, 288 Md. 61, 69, 415 A.2d 1126, [1130] (1980)."
* * * * * *
"[I]n this case, Thomas was suddenly detained for an incident that occurred more than three years before. We place particular emphasis on the fact that Thomas was fourteen years of age when the incident occurred and he was served with the writ at the age of seventeen. As we noted above, these three years are some of the most formative years in a person's life. For a teenager, three years and four months may seem a lifetime.... We therefore find that Thomas suffered at least some prejudice beyond mere anxiety.... [And moreover,] we find that the delay of over three years reached that critical point of being a `substantial' delay where a presumption of prejudice arose."

We then granted the Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Certiorari, In re Thomas J., 360 Md. 485, 759 A.2d 230 (2000), to address this case of first impression.


We have previously noted that while "juvenile proceedings are civil and not criminal in nature, this does not mean that a juvenile gives up all rights that a person would be entitled to in a criminal proceeding." In re Anthony R., 362 Md. 51, 69, 763 A.2d 136, 146 (2000). The respondent adopts this premise and asserts (i) a speedy trial claim based on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights; and (ii) a speedy trial claim based on the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution contains protections specifically granted to a criminal defendant in a criminal prosecution. Therefore, those rights are properly asserted by an accused in a criminal prosecution. The Supreme Court has been reluctant to transfer wholesale all the rights specifically granted to the criminal defendant to the juvenile offender. See McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 545, 91 S.Ct. 1976, 1986, 29 L.Ed.2d 647, 661 (1971)

("[t]he Court has refrained ... from taking the easy way with a flat holding that all rights constitutionally assured for the adult accused are to be imposed upon the state juvenile proceeding."); See also In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 30, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 1445, 18 L.Ed.2d 527, 548 (1967); Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 562, 86 S.Ct. 1045, 1057, 16 L.Ed.2d 84, 97 (1966) ("we do not mean ... that the hearing to be held must conform with all of the requirements of a criminal trial"). Consequently, any federal constitutional relief Thomas J. is afforded must stem from a violation of his due process rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

This Court has also refrained from holding that all rights granted to a criminal defendant, under the Maryland Constitution, statutes, and common law, are applicable in juvenile proceedings. Nevertheless, our approach has differed somewhat from that of the Supreme Court. Usually, instead of focusing on the more general protections under Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, the Maryland cases have determined whether a juvenile proceeding should be treated as a criminal prosecution for purposes of a specific right guaranteed by Maryland law. See, e.g., In re Michael W., 367 Md. 181, 185, 786 A.2d 684, 687 (2001)

("[F]or purposes of the double jeopardy prohibition, a juvenile delinquency proceeding is treated as a criminal prosecution"); In re Parris W., 363 Md. 717, 724 n. 1, 770 A.2d 202, 206 n. 1 (2001) ("[W]e are aware of no cases that have interpreted the scope of the right to counsel in juvenile proceedings, including the effective assistance of counsel, any differently because of the origin of the right"); In re Anthony R., 362 Md. 51, 76, 763 A.2d 136, 150 (2000) ("[W]e hold that the statute of limitations applicable to adult criminal misdemeanor offenses is likewise applicable to juvenile offenses in delinquency...

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