Raising the age of being tried as an adult

“When people are found guilty of committing a crime, they must be punished. These penalties can come in the way of fines, probation and incarceration. The most important aspect is that the punishment fits the crime.

In the case of 16-18 year olds in North Carolina, many times the punishment exceeds the crime by requiring these teens to be tried as adults.

North Carolina is only one of two states that requires this prosecutorial practice. The other state is New York.

A bill is working its way through the General Assembly in Raleigh that will raise the age for being tried as an adult to 18, and we support this legislation.

House Bill 280, the Justice Juvenile Reinvestment Act, filed earlier this month, raises juvenile jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds, except in the case of certain violent felonies.

“Violent felonies” is key to this bill. The most serious crimes, violent ones that involve victim injury, will still — under the bill — require the Juvenile Court to send the case to Superior Court if the teen is 16 or older. For lesser felonies, such as property crimes that do not involve victim injury, for teens of the same age, the Juvenile Court may send the case to Superior Court, with probable cause established and the recommendation of prosecutors or the defendant’s attorneys.

These two measures in the bill keep the public safe while reducing the cost and tax burden, and keeping teens from having to carry the stigma of a felony with them their entire lives. The Juvenile Court retains jurisdiction for 16 year olds committing crimes until they are 19; teens 17 to 18 will fall under the Juvenile Court until they are 20.

In cost savings, paying for the bill may increase the burden on North Carolina taxpayers about $71 million per year to pay for raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. The initial price has been one of the reasons previous bills have not passed. But in benefits to youth, victims and taxpayers, the $71 million investment could generate $123 million in benefits. These numbers come from a 2011 study by the Vera Institute of Justice on the “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in North Carolina,” which proponents of the bill still cite.

As we noted, North Carolina and New York are the only two states that require 16 and 17 year olds to be tried as adults. It was in 1946 when North Carolina set the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to 16, and did so during a time when a majority of states were moving to ages 17-21, with most states setting 18 as the age for being tried as an adult.

The idea of trying 16 and 17 year olds as adults for non-violent crimes is antiquated and requires a change now. We do not want to see North Carolina be the last state to bring about such reform.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board is comprised of Publisher Titus Workman, Managing Editor Duke Conover and News Editor Tia Bedwell.”

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