Should juveniles ages 16 and 17 be automatically charged as adults in criminal cases? Until this week, New York laws stated that they should.
On Sunday, April 9, New York approved legislation in the state budget to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Under a new system, to be launched over the several years, 16- and 17-year-olds will go through the family court or new youth courts and be incarcerated in juvenile facilities instead of adult prisons.
“Putting aside the fact that psychologists will testify that 16- and 17-year-olds often are not mentally mature, the reality of putting a 16- or 17-year-old in the same facility as hardened adult criminals is, on its face, cruel and unusual,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said regarding this reform legislation.
According to The Raise the Age NY campaign, a coalition of advocacy groups, 28,000 16- and 17-year-olds face being prosecuted as adults in New York every year. Often these are for relatively minor crimes, such as drug charges or fighting. While in adult jails or prisons, juveniles are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to face assault from staff and 36 times more likely to commit suicide.
New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the United States with current laws that automatically charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. North Carolina is also in the process of changing these laws.
Juveniles charged with criminal offenses, in either adult or youth courts, are innocent until proven guilty. In this situation, the best way to protect your legal rights is with help from an experienced criminal defense attorney.