Juveniles belong in juvenile court
The governor of New York just signed a bill called “Raise the Age.” That leaves North Carolina as the only state that still automatically charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. The good news is that North Carolina appears poised to also raise the age of criminal prosecution to 18.
However, such laws don’t guarantee justice for youths accused of crimes. In South Carolina and elsewhere, prosecutors can petition to have youthful offenders transferred to adult court. Juvenile courts can also incarcerate youths indefinitely until age 21. It is still important to have legal representation even in the juvenile justice system.
Raise The Age Is a Historic Win For Youths Accused Of Crimes
After more than a decade of trying, New York finally passed Raise the Age. The bill raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18. It prevents 16- and 17-year-olds from being jailed with adults. And it seals the records of juveniles if they stay clean for 10 years (and retroactively for juveniles sentenced in the past decade).
In New York, all youths age 16 or older had been prosecuted in adult court, even for nonviolent offenses such as theft. In addition to being subjected to assaults and sexual abuse in jail, adult court deprives juveniles of programs such as job training and mentoring that help them stay out of trouble. The recidivism rate (repeat offender) is higher when youths are prosecuted in adult court instead of the juvenile system.
Assuming North Carolina raises the age to 18, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Michigan and Wisconsin will become the new floor – they set the age of criminal responsibility at 17.
South Carolina youths can be prosecuted as adults
While North Carolina automatically prosecutes all 16 year-olds as adults, South Carolina may prosecute juveniles as adults under certain circumstances:
- A child age 16 or 17 charged with a criminal offense
- A child age 14 or 15 accused of an offense punishable by 15 or more years in prison
- A child age 14 or older who brings a gun to school, illegally possesses a gun, deals drugs within a half-mile of a school, or commits a “high and aggravated” assault
- Any child charged with murder (regardless of age)
The decision to transfer a juvenile to adult court is made at a waiver hearing. South Carolina courts consider eight factors such as the seriousness of the offense, danger to the public, premeditation, prior crimes, maturity level and whether the youth can be rehabilitated.
If your teenager is accused of any crime – at school or in the community – it is imperative to speak to a criminal defense lawyer who understands the juvenile justice system.