Age and Criminal Activity

Criminal charges are filed in one of two places—juvenile or adult court. Where you end up depends largely on your age and the severity of the crime you have been accused of committing. In most states, minors under the age of 18 are considered juveniles and are handled according to specific statutes and sentencing requirements that typically include a probation or rehabilitation period designed to turn the accused person’s life around at a young age. In North Carolina, however, state law currently requires 16- and 17-year-old offenders to be tried as adults, even if they have committed misdemeanors or other minor offenses. Now, legislators and advocates are pushing to change this law and provide better options for minors to serve their punishments and get their lives back on track. Currently, North Carolina and New York are the only states that treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults automatically. HB 399 – Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act Support for the proposed measure is coming from all sides, including lawmakers and law enforcement officials who spend a lot of time catching young people in the act of committing minor crimes. New Bern’s former police chief Frank Palombo shared his support in a statement: “If you don’t change this law, those kids out there, bunches of them are going to commit misdemeanors and they’re going to be subject to a lifelong commitment of a stupid mistake they made.” The bill, HB 399, is known as the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act. It focuses on providing options more appropriate to the accused person’s age and offense, options that focus less on punishment and more on rehabilitation. The bill would establish a juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee and create a civil citation process for juvenile offenders that includes anyone aged 16 and 17 who have committed misdemeanor crimes. In short, the bill would “raise the age” that separates adult and juvenile misdemeanor offenders from 16 to 18 years old. Unfortunately, the bill does not seem to be going anywhere this session. Why We Support Raising the Age Scientific studies regarding the adolescent brain continue to illuminate how the brains of juveniles (those under 18 years old) differ from adults’ brains. This science is beginning to explain how those physical differences in the brain often lead juveniles to make bad decisions that they will come to regret. In other words, science shows us that the bad actions of juveniles often do not reflect the character and judgment the young person will possess later in life. For that reason, juveniles should be treated differently by our criminal justice system than adults, and science further suggests that this leeway should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds. People often deserve a second chance—a chance to show that they have learned from a mistake. Juveniles deserve this second chance even more than adults, though, because they are simply not yet fully-formed humans, and thus their character is not yet formed. They are therefore more likely to change their behavior. So, rather than automatically treating 16 year olds as adults—often by sending them to prison, training them to be career criminals, and imprinting upon them the label “criminal” for life—we should be working to steer young people away from crime and help them learn from their mistakes and become productive adult citizens. Raising the age legislation accomplishes these rehabilitative goals by allowing judges to decide whether to treat 16 and 17 year olds as juveniles, while still allowing them to treat certain 16 and 17 year olds as adults depending on the history and characteristics of the accused and the nature of the offense. At Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan, a Raleigh criminal defense law firm, we represent teens and young adults who have been charged with minor or serious crimes and may be facing a trial in adult court. Juvenile offenders are more likely to commit additional crimes if they have spent time in adult prison, studies show, while rehabilitation and probation centers tend to correct bad behavior and establish better habits. By trying children as adults for even minor crimes, our criminal defense attorneys fear that the state will foster more criminal offenders. If your child has been charged with a criminal offense of any kind and will be facing a hearing in adult or juvenile court, contact an attorney at Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan to discuss your options today.
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