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Hannah Gaskill

Baltimore Sun

January 16, 2024

Maryland lawmakers remained steadfast Tuesday in their defense of the Child Interrogation Protection Act in spite of criticism — particularly among police and state prosecutors.

“We have a duty to protect the constitutional rights of our children,” Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue said during a virtual news conference hosted by the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition Tuesday morning. “That includes protecting the basic protections afforded to adults.”

Passed in 2022, the Child Interrogation Protection Act requires police officers to immediately alert a child’s parent or guardian when they are taken into custody. It also mandates that law enforcement provide kids the opportunity to speak with an attorney who uses age-appropriate language and terms to explain their civil rights before they are interrogated.

If police willfully do not follow the parameters of the law, any statement made by the minor in question would be inadmissible in court.

The Child Interrogation Protection Act does not prohibit law enforcement from speaking with children during the fact-finding phase of an investigation — only if the child is taken into police custody.

Dartigue said her office is staffed with attorneys trained for these situations.

In an opinion issued Jan. 11, Attorney General Anthony Brown deemed the Child Interrogation Protection Act constitutional.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Sandy Bartlett, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said that she “was delighted” when she read it, but did acknowledge that constitutional protections can be controversial “because the Bill of Rights are so absolute.”

“I certainly wasn’t happy when I read the Supreme Court’s decision allowing individuals to protest at a funeral. However, it is absolute: the First Amendment right is there, and we must protect it,” said Bartlett. “The Fifth Amendment is also part of the Bill of Rights and we must protect it. There is not a comma in the Fifth Amendment, thank God, that says ‘unless you are a child.’”

The Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects individuals from self-incrimination.

Some disagree about the statute’s specifications regarding police questioning kids.

Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dikes, a Republican, said at a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee briefing Tuesday that the Child Interrogation Protection Act does, in fact, prohibit police from talking to kids even when they aren’t in custody. She said the law “specifically forbids an unrepresented but knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of Miranda by a juvenile or a juvenile’s parents.”

Dikes said that she has several pending cases where the Child Interrogation Protection Act has “impeded” police from gathering information about crimes, including finding co-conspirators.

A September investigation from The Baltimore Sun found that, of 77 juvenile arrests made by Baltimore police in July 2023, only one child called the Maryland Office of the Public Defender’s 24/7 Youth Access to Counsel Hotline.

Dartigue said that the Child Interrogation Protection Act “helps to improve investigations” and to increase community trust in the criminal justice system and local law enforcement.

During the news conference on Tuesday, Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, thanked “challengers and resisters” to the law, “because they further strengthen our position by making false allegations not backed up by data,” forcing its champions to “make our arguments stronger and our advocacy greater.”

Carter, like many other politicians, echoed the sentiment that “accountability” is the focus — not just on children who commit crimes, but for adults and people of authority “that have not been truthful about the law, and that have blamed the law for all of the failings in the system.”

Also during the news conference, Josh Rovner, the director of youth justice at the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates for humane responses to crime, said that it’s imperative that the General Assembly “preserve the reforms” passed within the past few years that have “protected our children’s rights under the Constitution.”

Rovner said that Maryland needs to recognize its past mistakes — particularly those from the ’80s and ’90s, which he called “the super predator era.”

“During ‘the super predator era,’ elected leaders followed constituents’ fears instead of following the evidence of what works to keep our kids and our communities safe,” said Rovner.

According to the Office of the Public Defender, despite making up only 32% of the population, 63% of referrals to the Department of Juvenile Services are Black children.

During a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee briefing held just hours after the news conference, Dartigue said that the myth of the “super predator” drove Maryland and other states to “enact racist carceral laws that were deemed to be solutions.”

She said dog whistles from the “super predator era have begun to return, and warned committee members to be careful not to return to those ideas, which often describe children — primarily Black kids — as animals.”

“For example, I say ‘catch and release.’ You’ll hear the reference about how the children are being caught or arrested and immediately being released,” she said. “I dare you to challenge those terms, because when we think about ‘catch and release,’ it’s often referred to animals. And the reality is that when we’re talking about children — especially in the juvenile justice system — we’re talking about Black children.”

Carter said that, for “many, many decades,” Maryland failed its children and society as a whole. She said this law is a small effort at “building a better core group of young people.”

“It is our responsibility, whether it’s police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, legislators, members of the public to work collaboratively to serve our children and serve our society,” Carter said during the news conference.

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