In 2017, the state of New York raised the age of juveniles being tried as adults for non-violent crimes. The age was raised to 18, and by October of 2019, the state stopped prosecuting all 16 and 17-year-old children as adults. Instead, they pushed for these juveniles to receive proper treatment and interventions necessary based on the evidence on the crime committed.
Promoting Positive Outcomes
The decision was made by the Office for Justice Initiatives, OJI, who want to see the courts in New York help promote positive outcomes with juveniles. This initiative works with all agencies that work with minors to create strategies to push the juvenile justice system to help reform children in a fair manner.
The first stage of the legislation took effect at the beginning of October in 2019 and has all juveniles who are 16 or 17 and did not commit a violent crime receiving the proper intervention. If they have committed a felony, they will be tried in the youth section of the criminal courts of whatever jurisdiction the crime was committed. In addition, they will not be allowed to be housed in facilities or jails designated for adults. Finally, the courts will allow juveniles who have not committed a violent felony, sexual offense, or more than two felonies will be allowed to apply to have their records sealed after ten years of maintaining a clean record.
Why the Changes
Before 2017, New York considered everyone over the age of 15 as an adult. Many people had problems with this because psychologists have done studies to show the mental development of children. In order for a person to be charged with a crime, they must be able to understand the charges against him or her. The initiative feels that it is not possible with the stage of development juveniles are at the age of 16 or 17. In addition to possibly not understanding the process, juveniles were regularly housed with violent felons or hardened criminals. This puts their safety at risk on a daily basis, as well as compromise their mental well-being.
What the Changes Mean
The biggest change that comes with the Raise the Age initiative is that cases that are misdemeanors will only be held in family court, instead of criminal court. The family courts used to only handle cases for children under the age of 16, but they will give the same benefits to those under the age of 18 now. The family courts will also receive assistance from the Youth Parts, which is a section of the adult courts. This section is dedicated to handling juvenile cases, and they will handle felony cases. Unless prosecutors prove the juvenile has had extraordinary circumstances, all cases will be handled by the Family Court. The cases that will stay in adult court will be situations where a person was significantly injured or killed, the juvenile used a weapon in the crime, or the juvenile committed a sexual crime.
What is to Come?
The Raise the Age initiative is still growing and changes are still taking place. While advocates for the initiative have made a lot of progress, they would like children under the age of twelve to not face prosecution. Instead, they want to see these children receive preventative measures and get treatment. They are also pushing to have records sealed for cases that were held in adult courts prior to Raise the Age law. This includes people who are now within the ages of 19 and 25. It is unclear what else will be adjusted as the push is still working through the United States and is currently only active in five states.
With all of the changes, if your child has been charged with a crime, it will be important to hire a defense attorney. It can be complicated and challenging to attempt to navigate through the new system on your own. Your child’s future is also at risk, so it is important to make sure you have someone who knows the system and also has your child’s best interests in mind. While the courts will work to give your child the best protection possible, having a defense attorney and a youth offender attorney are the people to talk to.
If your child has been accused of a crime, you may worry that he or she will be prosecuted against by the same people who handle adults. Thankfully, the prosecution in most juvenile cases are done so by a completely different agency. If your child has been charged with a substance abuse crime, the prosecution will be a juvenile delinquency attorney instead of the District Attorney’s office. In New York, the Attorney General will occasionally step in depending on the severity of the crime, but you will often be up against the County Attorney instead. The county office handles municipal matters as well, such as housing offenses or traffic crimes.
The role the prosecutor plays in a juvenile case is less serious than in an adult case. When an adult is charged with a crime, the New York Assistant District Attorney will review the case completely and decide what charges should be filed in court. They work with the police during the investigation and work to see if it would just be better to plead the case out, or if it is even strong enough to go to court.
However, the prosecution in juvenile crimes get the charges from the police. The prosecutor will only see the case if the police feel there is enough merit to go to court. Typically, it is a probation department that handles the screening of juvenile cases. This is because probation officers think differently than the Attorney General, which is necessary if it is believed the juvenile’s behavior can be corrected before adulthood. With that said, the prosecutor will still contact key witnesses, negotiate with the defense, file motions, and try the case in court if it gets that far. This is the same as adult crimes.
What is important, and why it is important for you to still obtain a defense attorney for your child, is that the prosecutor may still decide to resolve a case before the trial begins. Despite what the probation office desires, the prosecutor and your attorney can reach an agreement with a consequence to actions that satisfy the crime. The judge will still be reached to see the resolution that has been drawn up and must agree with it as well for a trial to be avoided. This is a desired resolution for many because it ensures a fair ending for the juvenile and saves time for cases that need tried.
Going to Court
While every attempt will be made to settle the case out of court, some cases will need to be tried. The prosecution will use juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor, rather than work for a harsh jail sentence. They will look for community service, counseling programs available, and diversion to prevent the crime from happening again. While they still have the right to a trial, you will not have the right to request a jury of your peers. The judge will hear the evidence in a hearing with the prosecutor, your defense attorney, and you and will decide on appropriate consequences if an agreement has not been reached. They are an informal court, which is why some juveniles will need to be charged as adults if the crime is severe.
While the case is tried differently, the prosecutor must still offer a few rights to you and your defense attorney. You have the right to cross-examine and receive evidence against you. The prosecutor needs to make sure they have enough to prove you are guilty of a crime, beyond all reasonable doubt. Just because the prosecutor is more lenient in juvenile cases than in adult cases, does not mean you should rely on them to have your best interest in mind. Most juvenile cases are sealed after the age of 18, however, it is possible that the child’s entire future can be damaged due to a crime. It is your responsibility and duty to make sure you are defended adequately.
With everything stated, it is important to know that juvenile cases are tried very differently in the state of New York because the state wants to see a person succeed. The delinquency and probation offices work to keep a child’s future in mind when determining how to close a case, but still satisfy the offended parties.
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