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Group wants to raise age limit for juvenile offenders

Posted February 19, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— In North Carolina, you have to be 21 to drink alcohol and 18 to vote and to have full driving privileges.

But the state is one of the few in which a 16- or 17-year-old is considered an adult in the eyes of the law.

Juvenile justice system Increase the juvenile age to 18? Some say yes

Some child advocacy groups are lobbying state lawmakers to consider increasing the age in which a person can be criminally charged as an adult to 18 years old.

Sorien Schmidt, senior vice president of Action for Children, says juveniles, whom she considers to be under 18, need special resources they are not likely to get in the adult court system.

"What we know is that putting juveniles in the juvenile justice system gets better results, because the system is geared toward kids with developing brains who are learning how to control their emotions and learning how to work in society," Schmidt said.

Action for Children proposes that cases with suspects under age 18 be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile system by default unless a suspect is charged with first-degree murder. A juvenile judge could choose to transfer a case to the adult system.

Schmidt would prefer to see parents held accountable for their children's actions – something she says doesn’t happen if they are under the jurisdiction of the adult court system.

In the juvenile system, she said, "Not only are they under the court's jurisdiction, but their caretaker or parents are under that system too and have to show up, get subpoenaed."

Those opposed to changing the age say violent criminals are getting younger and that the juvenile system is already overwhelmed and underfunded.

Last year, more than 22,000 juveniles – defined by law as someone 15 or younger – went through the state court system.

"If you take the number of serious offenders who are 16 and 17 years old and dump them on a system the way it is now, it could make the juvenile justice system much worse than it already is," said Wake County Chief District Judge Robert Rader.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is opposed to changing the law.

"We look at the trends of younger and younger offenders committing violent sexual offenses, armed robberies, homicides, and then we're going to talk about raising the juvenile age and making it more difficult to protect the public? I think that concept is ridiculous," Willoughby said.

Schmidt disagrees.

"There's a lot of studies that have shown us that kids who go into juvenile systems are less likely to commit future crimes and that kids who are put into adult systems are much more likely to commit future crimes," she said. "They are also more likely to become more violent over time."

Linda Hayes, the new secretary of the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, believes lawmakers need more information to make an informed decision.

A bill introduced during the last legislative session was sent to the Governor's Crime Commission for study. The commission is expected to give its recommendations by April 1.

Hayes said most of the crimes committed by 16 and 17-year-old offenders are not heinous enough to qualify for adult punishment.

"So, I think it's going to just be really based on what the research shows," she said.

A change, Hayes said, would require lawmakers to appropriate more money for the juvenile justice system.

Schmidt admits more resources would be needed but says lawmakers have to look at the long-term outlook.

"(The system) is absolutely underfunded, but for the long-term well-being of the state, in terms of the economy, if you put them in juvenile and they're less likely to commit future crimes, you're going to have to build fewer prisons," she said. "And we have a problem where we already have too many people in prisons now."

"We need to bite the bullet and do what is going to work and what the science tells us works," she added.

51 Comments

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  • roncorey1 Feb 20, 2009

    Uhhh...sorry Myra...

    16 and 17 yr olds having sex. Hmmmm. Now there is something new! Actually, back in '94 or '95 the State Legislature RAISED the age of consent from 13 to 16 yrs old. As long as the other person is not more than 5 yrs older. So a 16 or 17 yr old can have sex with anyone between 16 and 21. Sounds fair to me.

    What does bother me though is when the 15 yr old girl has sex with the 19 0r 20 yr old male and he's charged with all sorts of stuff and made to register as a sex offender. Yet when the same 15 yr old commits a heinous crime we want to charge them as adults. Does ANYONE see the hypocrisy and double-standard here other than me?

  • Eduardo1 Feb 20, 2009

    roncorey1.....either; you are on something, live underground, have blinders on, or you are a gang member. I guess you also never have seen the stats, on just to name a few of the gangs that operate in the thousands here in North Carolina:BLOODS, CRYPTS, LATIN KINGS, ARAYAN NATION, NOTE TO MENTION THE eTHNIC GANGS: not to mention ethnic gangs:RUSSIAN,CHINESE,JAPANESE,VIETNAMESE, MID-EAST, AND SO ON. This is not just a NC problem, it is a National problem. Firsdt you are in denial that they exist, then you say the exist because of socio-economic problems. unknown fathers, drugs, raped mothers, peer pressure. Lots of good reasons that they exist, so do not deny that this is a fabrication or a lie, by police or politicians.

  • Myra Feb 20, 2009

    The 16, 17, year old ‘children’ cannot vote, cannot drink alcohol, cannot enlist, cannot enter into a contract, cannot enroll in school, cannot purchase ADULT MOVIES, but as a bonus North Carolina GenAssbly gives them the legal right to consent to have sex. MORONS, We are surrounded by morons. The Fayetteville Legal/Court System sent a 16 yr old boy to prison for 8 years for firing a gun (hit no one) no injuries WHILE the very adult male who came out of a bar late at night and instead of dialing 911 he shot an un-armed Marine in the head; his punishment was “Probation” for his plea to a “Misdemeanor”. I wonder if the police did alcohol test on both the victim and the perp.

    Unless we are going to give 16 & 17 year old EQUAL ADULT RIGHTS (other than the sex one) — NO we should NOT try them as adults. I guess all I can say to the 16 year olds is go have SEX North Carolina approves of that — stay away from guns and fighting and, oh yeah, stay in school — it’s the

  • gammasandi Feb 20, 2009

    As one who spent over 30 years working with juveniles, I believe that most young people either succumb to peer pressure or just lack a discerning maturity. Therefore, 16-17 year-olds should be tried in juvenile court unless it is a crime against a person causing serious injury. Much more emphasis needs to be on restitution to the victim, and in most cases, victim and offender need to be face-to-face with the victim given the opportunity to be heard completely. The offender needs a means to "fix it" with the victim, not just any "community service"

  • curiousgeorgia Feb 20, 2009

    This doesn't look like an either/or situation--there are just too many variables. Sure, parents should be the ones to raise the kids right, but some of them are just plain rotten and couldn't give a darn about their misconceptions (kids). For misdemeanors let the 16 year olds be tried as juveniles and punished accordingly--preferably no prison time. For heinous crimes and other felonies, try them as adults. Working out the punishment is the problem. Throwing them in with even more hardened criminals--that puts one on the horns of a true dilemma.

  • Amruby Feb 20, 2009

    I'm a teacher who got punched in the face. I took out a warrant on a juvenile for "assault on a government official". It never made it to the court room because the student "did not have a record of prior similar behavior". If they are old enough to do the crime then I think they should do the time.

  • roncorey1 Feb 20, 2009

    amwrenn2:

    The "growing gang problem" you speak of is dubious in my opinion. Law enforcment, politiicians, and the mainstream media (a tool of the aforementioned) have blown the gang problem out of proportion. Yes it has gotten larger in the last several years in N.C. No doubt about that. But, I'm tired of every time their is a youth crime involving a group of associated individuals aginst another group it is described as "gang-related". Just another way for a municipality or county to obtain state or federal funds. Claim you have a gang problem.

    Now that being said, the gang problems we DO have can be mostly blamed on poverty, illegal immigration, and lack of parenting. That coupled with easy access to handguns and narcotics trade.

    Treating adolescents as adults is not going to stop anything.

  • icdumbpeople Feb 20, 2009

    The only way I would agree with this is if the parents were charged for what ever they did instead.

  • Eduardo1 Feb 20, 2009

    roncory1, lets do both. take care of the criminal, no matter what age, and if it is possible, with all of the money that is currently spent with no effect, lets throw more of it in to that well. My first choice, FELONY CHARGES = 12 & UP, MISDEMEANOR charges 18 & up. Also, you indicate guns & drugs as the problem, how about, violence on TV & internet. How about the childrens role models: Lindsey, Britney, Paris, A-Rod, Big Mac, Bonds, The Rocket, Jason, our cheating politicians.

  • SWEET-N-SOUR Feb 20, 2009

    A 16 or 17 year old knows right from wrong...well should anyway. Depending on the crime should depend on how a person is charged, however people do make mistakes so again depeinding on the crime should determine if a person is charged as an adult, example...murder...yea the juvenile knew they just took a life.

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