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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.