CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Supporters of a bill that would stop trying all 16 and 17 year olds in North Carolina as adults when they are charged with crimes hope adding an advisory committee to oversee the change will help get the bill passed.
A similar bill passed the House in 2014, but stalled in the Senate. This time, Rep. Duane Hall has added the advisory committee to oversee plans for a system to send 16 and 17 year olds charged with misdemeanors like shoplifting to the juvenile court system. He thinks it can pass the Senate this time.
“We have the votes in the overall Senate body. The question is whether we can get it out of committee. That was the problem last time,” Hall, a Wake County Democrat, told The Charlotte Observer (https://bit.ly/1Kk1cUT).
New York and North Carolina remain the only states in the country to automatically try all 16 year olds as adults. Youth advocates said it is long past time to change the law passed nearly a century ago.
“It’s just criminal for us to treat 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults when we treat them as children in almost every other way,” said Frank Crawford, a former executive at Youth Homes and the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina.
The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association and other law enforcement groups aren’t against the idea, but they also said it is vital to get more money into the juvenile court systems before putting more defendants into it.
“The juvenile justice system is already inadequately funded to provide services to juveniles under the age of 16. To add two more age groups to an already overburdened system is not logical,” said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the association.
Mecklenburg District Court Judge Lou Trosch said he often struggles when a teen charged with a minor crime shows up in front of him charged as an adult. He said the adult record will follow the teen throughout his life, while juvenile records don’t. Also, juvenile courts offer treatment and education along with punishment.
“It’s really odd when I’m hearing a case and you’re under 18, you’re considered a child for just about everything,” Trosch said. “You can’t sign a contract. … You can’t lease an apartment. Your parents are responsible for your decisions. But for criminal purposes, you’re an adult.”
Information from: The Charlotte Observer, https://www.charlotteobserver.com
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