Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act Changes the Adult Prosecution Age to 18

By Nathan Jarvis

Today in North Carolina, 16 and 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as an adult for criminal offenses. The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, which is effective on December 1, 2019, will change the adult prosecution age to 18 years old to align with the current policies of all other States in the United States. This means that 16 and 17-year-olds will start being prosecuted in juvenile court instead of in adult court and a youth’s split-second decision will not automatically lead to adult punishment.

Who is Not Included?

“Raise the Age” will not apply to motor vehicle offenses defined by the Motor Vehicle Act. Defense attorneys should be aware that offenses such as unauthorized use of a motor vehicle or breaking and entering a motor vehicle may trigger this exclusion. Also, some juveniles will be excluded from this Act, such as: (1) married or emancipated juveniles; (2) those that have been transferred and convicted in superior court; and (3) those that have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, including motor vehicle offenses, in district or superior court.

So… How Will this Help Juveniles?

Instead of originating in the adult court system, all juvenile offenses, excluding those motor vehicle offenses, will now start in juvenile court. The juvenile justice system focuses more on rehabilitation and combating recidivism as opposed to punitive punishment. This change will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to have better access to rehabilitative programs, mentors, counselors, and education. Felonies A-G will only be transferred to superior court if there is either a notice of indictment or a finding of probable cause by the court. For Class H or I felonies, transfer to superior court will require a transfer hearing. Prosecutors will have some discretion before sending juveniles to superior court. The decision for a juvenile to go to superior court will now be made based upon further investigation and discovery instead of instantly due to the charges alleged. Instead of instant punishment for the juvenile, the main objective can now be rehabilitation.

Impact of Juvenile Court

Studies have shown that a juvenile’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Based on the current system, we are punishing juveniles for making decisions when their brains are not even fully developed. We are holding them to a standard of an adult with a fully functioning brain even though scientifically, that is not the case. The Act will allow juveniles to be a part of a program which is specifically tailored to how children think and learn. This can lead to lesser repeat offenses and hopefully allow juveniles the opportunity to grow from their mistakes. Youths will have the opportunity to receive treatment and continue their education. These opportunities are not always available in superior court. Juveniles aged 16 and 17 will now have a second chance to make better decisions in the future.

Parents of 16 and 17-year-olds often have not understood why their child who cannot vote, enter into military service, purchase a gun or otherwise conduct activities that are designated as “adult” activities are being charged as an adult in our criminal justice system. Finally, our legislature has acknowledged that fundamental principles of fairness require juveniles who have been deemed not mature enough for such “adult” activities should not be treated the same as adults in a criminal justice system. 

Nathan Jarvis was born and raised in the Adirondacks, a region of upstate New York. Nathan then moved to Wilmington, North Carolina where he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Affairs. During this time, Nathan was a member of Pi Sigma Alpha national honor society and the Pre-law Society.

After college, Nathan received his Juris Doctor, graduating with honors. During law school, Nathan was a pro bono volunteer with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Expunction Project, a member of the Democratic and Progressive Society, a criminal law Teacher’s Assistant, and a volunteer with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. 

Nathan first gained valuable experience as an intern with the New Hanover County’s District Attorney’s Office, where he helped prosecute property and financial crimes. During Law School, Nathan worked at the Neighborhood Advocacy Center of Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that represents indigent clients facing termination of parental rights proceedings. Prior to forming Jarvis Law, PLLC, Nathan worked in private practice where he focused on criminal defense and family law.