This summer, our state passed a law stating that juveniles who are 16 and 17 will no longer be automatically charged as adults for misdemeanors and low-level felonies. We were the last state in the entire country to “raise the age” of juveniles in court, so it’s something that is long overdue.
Unfortunately, this law doesn’t fully go into effect until December 2019 – more than two years from now. So in the meantime, 16- and 17-year-olds can still be charged as adults.
Why Did North Carolina Finally Decide to “Raise the Age”?
Quite simply put, as the only state left in the country that automatically charged anyone 16 years of age or older as an adult in the criminal justice system, North Carolina was behind the times.
Advocates for juvenile reform have consistently stated that 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes in North Carolina had a disadvantage in comparison with teens in other states. If you go through the juvenile justice system, your name and record can be hidden from public view. If you go through the adult criminal justice system, though, everything is made public.
This means that teens who are automatically charged as adults have a criminal record following them around for the rest of their life.
Additionally, research, studies, and education have shown not only that impulse control is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, but also that children who go through the juvenile justice system aren’t as likely to end up back in prison.
“North Carolina’s century-old policy of sending 16- and 17-year-olds to adult jails and branding them with lifelong criminal records has been a blight on our state and done nothing to make our communities safer,” said Susanna Birdsong, a lawyer with the ACLU. “It is long past time for young offenders in North Carolina to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the country to turn their lives around through the juvenile justice system.”
What If My Teen is Charged Before “Raise the Age” Takes Effect?
While it’s great that our state has taken strides to help teens accused of crimes, we still have to wait until the end of 2019 for this new law to take effect.
So what does this mean for 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of crimes prior to that time?
While Raise the Age is waiting to take effect, 16- and 17-year-olds will continue to be charged as adults for misdemeanors and felonies.
There are four categories of misdemeanor offenses:
- Class A1: 1-150 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment
- Class 1: 1-120 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment
- Class 2: 1-60 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment
- Class 3: 1-20 days of active, intermediate, or community punishment
Active punishment is a jail sentence, but intermediate or community punishment allows for alternative sentencing such as house arrest, attending a treatment facility, community service, etc.
There are ten categories of felony offenses – Class A to I, with Class B felonies divided into Class B1 and B2 felonies. Class I felonies are the least severe, and Class A felonies are the most severe, with a range of prison sentences:
- Class A: death or life without parole
- Class B1: 144 months to life without parole
- Class B2: 94-393 months
- Class C: 44-182 months
- Class D: 38-160 months
- Class E: 15-63 months
- Class F: 10-41 months
- Class G: 8-31 months
- Class H: 4-25 months
- Class I: 3-12 months
As you can see, if a 16- or 17-year-old is charged as an adult, he or she will face more serious punishments than if they were tried as a juvenile. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to fight for your child’s rights and contact an experienced North Carolina juvenile crimes attorney if your teen is facing adult charges.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.