Circuit court candidates say defendants’ age, maturity level is a factor in sentencing

Circuit court candidates say defendants’ age, maturity level is a factor in sentencing

Incumbent reminds voters of judicial vetting process

| Published:

Judicial candidates for the Montgomery County Circuit Court participated in a virtual forum Monday night hosted by Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville

Screen capture via Youtube

Candidates running for four Montgomery County Circuit Court judge seats this fall agreed Monday night that 18-year-old defendants are adults, but are not necessarily fully mature, and that’s a factor in sentencing.

A virtual candidate forum on Monday featured five of the six candidates running for the four seats.

The candidates included Bibi Berry, Christopher Fogleman and Michael McAuliffe — sitting judges who are running together on a slate with the fourth incumbent judge, David Boynton, who did not participate in the forum.

Monday’s discussion also featured Marylin Pierre, a Rockville attorney who finished as one of the top four vote-getters in the Democratic primary in June. The four sitting judges won the Republican primary, but Pierre’s name will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot because she advanced through the Democratic primary.

The other candidate at the forum on Monday was Thomas P. Johnson III, who lost in both the Democratic and Republican primaries but is running as a write-in candidate.

Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville hosted the forum.

When the Rev. Barry Moultrie asked about the age cutoff for trying someone as an adult, the incumbent judges pointed out that state law considers anyone at least 18 to be an adult. Fogleman said that despite this, a person’s judgment is “still an issue at that age.”

“And we have to be aware of that. So, when I have someone in that age range who has committed a crime and is before me in court for sentencing or disposition, I do have to consider where they are in terms of their maturity level, despite their chronological age,” he said.

McAuliffe said judges need to “think long and hard” before incarcerating 18-year-old defendants.

“I’m not saying an 18-year-old is never responsible for their actions. We’re all responsible for our actions. But they’re not as responsible. Not in the same way as a 30- or 40-year-old,” he said.

Berry said it’s important to recognize that the human brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25, and the punishment should reflect the defendant’s maturity level.

“You don’t want to impose these lengthy sentences with no opportunity to rehabilitate, particularly with young people because there is that room for change,” she said.

Johnson cited academic studies that say adults’ brains aren’t mature until 25, and said whether 18-year-olds should be tried as adults should be determined by a judge based on the facts of the case.

“I would look at the facts and circumstances and also an evaluation by a clinical psychologist,” he said.

Pierre said in some cases, younger defendants are given longer sentences for minor offenses, which she attributes to racial bias in the court system.

“The difference between youthful exuberance and a crime sometimes depends on what someone looks like, and also what it is that the judge thinks that the person deserves based on what the person looks like,” she said.

Monday’s forum was considerably tamer than a forum earlier this month sponsored by MoCo Women, in which the incumbent judges criticized Pierre’s lack of experience, and pointed out the fact that she was rejected by judicial nominating commissions under both Gov. Larry Hogan and former Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In Maryland, the governor appoints a judicial nominating commission when a Circuit Court vacancy occurs. The commissions vet and nominate candidates before the governor reviews them and appoints judges to the court.

McAuliffe on Monday reminded viewers that the incumbent judges are vetted by a commission. He named a series of legal associations that are involved in the vetting process, including the Bar Association of Montgomery County and the Maryland State Bar Association.

“That’s who does the vetting. That’s who has examined your sitting judges. And we have to make it through that in order to be qualified to become a judge,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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