NC is the only state in the United States that automatically bills 16-year-olds as adults. Here’s why it’s changing
Two 16-year-olds and two 17-year-olds were charged with “possession of a handgun by a minor,” but all four ended up in adult court.
The fact that they are under 18 is what makes them against the law, but in the state’s criminal justice system, they are considered adults when it comes to prosecuting them.
“Having the name ‘juvenile’ in charge when we put kids into the adult system is really ironic and heartbreaking on many levels,” Michelle Zechmann, CEO of Haven House Services in Raleigh, told ABC 11.
Starting in December, anyone under the age of 18 facing the same offense or the two lowest crimes in the state will now be prosecuted in a juvenile court.
For the other seven high-level crimes, defendants under the age of 18 will initially be referred to juvenile court, but district prosecutors have the option of transferring these cases to adult court, either through a judge or an indictment before a grand jury.
Zechmann, who has dedicated a 26-year career defending children’s rights and who, as a mother of four, knows a thing or two about their upbringing, noted that the increasing age of minors in Adult criminal court is only something new in North Carolina.
“We are the last state in the country to do so. So it is difficult but although we have finally taken the step,” she said.
Among those who worked on the new law is Wake County District Court Chief Justice Robert Rader.
Rader has been on the bench for 25 years and has likely spent more time in juvenile court than any other active judge in the county.
He says citizens shouldn’t worry about young offenders getting a juvenile court pass, as data from other states shows increasing age works.
“You actually see the crime rate going down. You actually see that in a lot of places the graduation rate is going up. So yes, there is data to show that it might actually make the system safer,” he said. he declared.
“It actually has an impact on adult crime,” she said. “We are seeing adult crime decrease because we walk side by side with young people longer from their youth until they are 18 years old. We help them through services, support, helping them learn a different behavior. And it really is more efficient. “
Zechmann and Rader note that studies have repeatedly shown that the “at risk” parts of the human brain do not fully develop until their mid to late twenties.
“You can’t necessarily look at a 15 or 16 year old and assume that they make decisions the same way a 26, 28 or 40 year old does,” Rader said.
Rader says that on Dec. 1, Wake County alone predicts the new law will drop 1,500 additional defendants into the juvenile caseload.
He and other leaders in the justice system are trying to make sure there are enough staff, office space, court time and services.
But he says the biggest problem is funding.
“If you add all the 16 and 17 year olds and you don’t increase the money or fund it adequately, it’s going to have a detrimental effect,” he said.
According to Rader, lawmakers were to provide $ 47 million for the first year of the legal change.
But with the state budget still in limbo, there is cause for concern right now.
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