A new law has just gone into effect in North Carolina, known as “Raise the Age.” As of December 1st, 2019, North Carolina courts are no longer automatically trying 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults.
Instead, some crimes committed by older minors may remain in juvenile court instead of being elevated. Learn more here about what led to this shift in thinking, how the “Raise the Age” initiative affects other North Carolina laws, and when older minors can still be charged as an adult.
After 100 Years, What Initiated the Shift in NC Legislators’ Thinking?
For the past hundred years, North Carolina has been able to try children as young as 13 as adults in a court of law.
In fact, charging all minors aged 16 and 17 as adults for any crime — including nonviolent crimes — as an adult has been mandatory when the judge finds that the charge is supported by probable cause.
That is, until now…
The Children’s Alliance Found Adult Courts Aren’t Good for Children
The Children’s Alliance, a child advocacy group, has spent the past several years campaigning to change this, however. Their argument is that sending juvenile offenders through the adult legal system makes them worse, not better.
Children tried as adults are more likely to re-offend and less likely to be rehabilitated. These factors affect their future opportunities.
Two More Years for Juvenile Offenders Can Make a Difference
The new law allows two more years for developing juveniles to learn from their mistakes before they land on their permanent records. This is because juvenile court records are sealed, so once a juvenile offender becomes an adult, those records no longer follow them.
They’ll be able to apply more easily to colleges without a felony on their record. They remain eligible for public housing if they need it. They do not have to disclose a felony conviction on job applications. These are just three of the ways our kids will benefit.
How Does This Change North Carolina Law?
Prior to the Raise the Age act, regardless of whether the crime was a misdemeanor or a felony, when the offender was 16 or older, elevation to adult court was mandatory. Now, an adult trial is only required for specific cases involving violent crimes, motor vehicle offenses, and class A-G felonies.
Aggravating circumstances can also elevate juvenile charges to an adult offense, too. But nonviolent juvenile crimes like theft, drug charges, forgery, and mischief are no longer automatically eligible for adult court transfer simply because of age.
Could My Child Still Be Charged as an Adult in North Carolina?
The “Raise the Age” act means that people under the age of 18 are not required to be charged as adults. This does not mean that they cannot be charged as adults.
Bill 632 only affects non-violent crimes and lesser felonies. If your child has been charged with a violent crime, an offense involving a vehicle, or any Class A-G felony, they may be transferred.
When a juvenile has a previous adult-court conviction, then they must also be tried as an adult for all future charges.
Experienced legal representation is the key to avoiding these scenarios. The Raise the Age act is good news for minors who have recently found themselves facing charges, but it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
It is still possible for your child to be charged as an adult, even with the Raise the Age act. However, the right juvenile defense attorney will understand how to present the case in order to provide the best possible outcome for your child.