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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Difference Of One Year

Sometimes the difference of one year can have a monumental impact on a person. This week in Mecklenburg County district court I handled two seperate cases involving a 15 year old and a 16 year old. The 15 year old is accused of a misdemeanor for an incident at high school. The 16 year old is accused of a drug charge. The 15 year old was in juvenile court. The 16 year old in adult court.

The juvenile's family didn't understand why probation was necessary for the incident, why a court counselor was involved in their life and why the court was going to keep an eye on their child for the next 6 months. Unfortunately this family had experience in adult court with an older sibling before and was not used to the responsibilities and requirements of juvenile court.  I explained to the family that their child was showing red flags- poor performance in school, poor attendance in school, hanging out with less than desirable individuals and participating in incidents at school,  although minor, still deemed criminal under the law. In theory, the juvenile system is designed to help this young person become a productive member of society and not become a statistic in the adult system. If the child is successful, they can become a productive member of society without any criminal record. They have the chance to succeed without explaining a criminal charge on a job application or job interview.  

The 16 year old in adult court is facing drug charges. There is no court counselor. There isn't a judge that will be personally assigned to the case, familiar with the teenager, and familiar with family members. Mecklenburg County had a drug rehabilitation program for those facing drug charges, STEP Court, but it appears there is no money to fund the program anymore. If convicted, the 16 year old will have a criminal record. An explanation will be required throughout his/her life.

North Carolina and New York are the only two states in the entire country that automatically view a 16 year old as an adult. There has been positive movement in North Carolina to change this to 18 years of age.

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