Yesterday, lawmakers returned to Raleigh for the 2017 long session. Among the many important issues the legislature is expected to consider this year, “raise the age” will likely once again be included. Since 1919, N.C. law has required that minors be prosecuted as adults for all crimes beginning at age 16. There has been a long-standing campaign to raise the juvenile age but legislative proposals attempting to do so have repeatedly failed. New York is the only other state in the nation that automatically prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults, although that state allows “reverse waiver” which permits transfer from criminal to juvenile court.
One of the reasons often cited for the legislature’s reluctance to raise the age is the strong opposition of law enforcement officers and prosecutors to such reform. That assertion is no longer valid, at least in part. The N.C. Sheriffs’ Association and several other law enforcement groups have publicly endorsed a new raise the age proposal by the Criminal Investigation and Adjudication Committee of the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice (NCCALJ). The proposal recommends that North Carolina raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds for all offenses, except high-level felonies and traffic offenses. Youthful offenders (16- and 17-year-olds) who commit Class A-E felonies would be automatically transferred to adult court upon a finding of probable cause or an indictment, alleviating public safety concerns held by law enforcement officers and prosecutors about violent juvenile offenders.