Important legislation is pending in Raleigh that would change the way 16 and 17 year olds are treated in North Carolina’s criminal justice system. Click here to read the Youth Offenders Rehabilitation Act.
Shockingly, North Carolina and New York remain the only two states in the country that still prosecute 16 and 17 year olds, when accused of misdemeanors, as adults. New York is expected to pass legislation soon changing this law.
North Carolina should do likewise to avoid being the only State in the Union on the wrong side of common sense justice.
As a criminal defense attorney who has practiced criminal law for over 15 years, both as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I encourage elected officials to pass this legislation.
First, this legislation would only apply to 16 and 17 year olds accused of misdemeanor offenses; felony cases would remain in adult court. Also, the Bill’s passage is common sense: teenagers are not yet adults.
Juvenile cases are heartbreaking. They are heartbreaking for the families who see their 16 year old family member incarcerated with adults in the county jail. They are heartbreaking when an individual is reminded of the case every time a background check is completed. A bad decision made during youth can unfairly alter a life forever.
Absolutely, crimes that are committed are horrifying for those who have been victimized. As a prosecutor, I sat with many victims and remember their raw emotions and stories. I will never forget the victim whose husband was killed; I won’t forget her story of getting into her car to go look for him and drove upon the crime scene. I often wonder how their daughter is doing after losing her dad when she was still in elementary school. You don’t forget these cases. They stay with you. As a defense attorney, you will always feel empathy for crime victims.
Many argue those who commit particularly heinous crimes or young individuals with violent histories must be treated as adults. This legislation does not change that. The District Attorney has the discretion to ‘transfer’ cases to adult court if the facts and history of the case support it. This new law only applies to misdemeanors, not felonies cases that would qualify for transfer.
The majority of the cases in court everyday are not these violent cases. Most cases are teenagers who make a bad decision. Many cases involve teenagers that come from broken homes, troubled areas and lack any means to support themselves. Many are living below the poverty level and are not regularly attending school. They are raising themselves and sometimes a little brother or sister.
The existing system of adult justice for 16 and 17 year olds, resulting in conviction and incarceration as adults, unreasonably alters their futures. Giving teenagers longer access to the juvenile system where they have educational services, treatment and community programs is imperative and can ultimately allow them an opportunity to succeed.
NC Child and Council for Children’s Rights are two organizations worth mentioning. Both continue to work every day to “put children first” and their views advocating raising the age are worth visiting.
Criminal Law Updates Provided by The Law Office of Carilyn Ibsen PLLC (888)543-2427