Bill would punish juveniles as adults for attempted carjacking

SALISBURY, Md. – Some lawmakers are pushing a bill that could allow 16-year-olds to be charged as adults when it comes to the crime of attempted carjackings. If this bill becomes law that means that a juvenile arrested for attempted carjacking would go through the same exact process as an adult without ever being convicted. That means they’d be booked in adult jails, tried in adult court proceedings, and face adult sentences. But psychologists say that may not be a good idea.

“The research is very clear, you put young people into an environment with adults who have committed crimes, they are very influenced, because teenagers are still influenced by adults,” Dr. Kathy Seifert, a psychologist, said.

Dr. Seifert says charging juveniles as adults can be harmful. but that’s exactly what the bill in Maryland aims to do. Senate Bill 248 would make attempted carjacking a crime that could subject someone as young as 16-years-old to adult charges.

“Carjacking is a very violent crime, it’s, for all practical purposes, it’s a robbery, it’s very similar to strong armed robbery, something is being taken from you by force,” Lt. Tim Robinson with the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, said.

Senator Mary Beth Carozza says she supports the bill because, “carjacking and attempted carjacking are very serious offenses with victims experiencing extreme trauma.” She says, because of that, juveniles who attempt carjacking should be treated as adults.  But psychologists we spoke with say a 16-year-old’s brain does not function the same way an adult’s would.

“The brain continues to develop, really, throughout your lifetime, but in particular in between zero and eighteen,” Dr. Seifert said.

And that a less developed brain, plus the intensity of peer pressure throughout adolescence, can have dangerous results.

“When you get into adolescence, of course you have testing things out, and impulsivity and those types of things,” Dr. Seifert said. “You put those two together, and you get somebody who really can get into a lot of trouble.”

Some believe all of that could become even worse if juveniles are subjected to the same criminal process as adults.

“They’re going to be booked into central booking, they are going to be taken in front of the District Court Commissioner, and they’re going to be housed in the adult facility,” Lt. Robinson said.

And if the goal here is rehabilitation, Dr. Seifert says that won’t even happen.

“Many people believe that if you punish teenagers or adults, that they can change the person’s behavior,” Dr. Seifert said. “The research is very clear that punishment doesn’t change anybody’s behavior for the long run.”

Lt. Tim Robinson adds that if a juvenile is charged as an adult, there is always a chance that the case could be moved back to juvenile court.

The bill will next be heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The bill was initially introduced in 2019, but failed in committee.

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