Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Top stories from 2019, No. 4: Raise the age law takes effect [Free read]

From adult offenders to juvenile, the new law has changed how teens are charged in North Carolina. (Port City Daily photo / File)

Editor’s Note: The ‘Raise the Age’ law has been in the works for several years and has finally been implemented at the start of the month. In essence, the new law finds new ways to charge teens accused of crimes as juvenile offenders instead of adults.

But it is not for everyone, violent crimes committed can still land teens with adult charges, and those convicted of previous felonies will likely be charged and tried as an adult.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — At the beginning of the month, a new law went into effect all across the state. It’s known as the ‘Raise the Age’ initiative and it will prevent older youths from automatically being charged as adults in many crimes.

“Effective Dec. 1, 2019, 16 and 17-year old individuals who commit crimes in North Carolina will no longer automatically be charged in the adult criminal justice system. In 2017, lawmakers raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to age 18, following years of research, study and education on this topic,” according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

The new law will have a significant impact on how crimes are handled across the state, and although it has only been in effect for roughly two weeks, its impacts can already be seen locally.

What it means for New Hanover County

Perhaps the biggest impact the new law will have on the county is the expected doubling of cases handled by the Juvenile Justice Center. The county is already in the process of rebuilding the facility in Downtown Wilmington.

Related: New Hanover County looks to tear down and rebuild Juvenile Justice Center in downtown Wilmington

The county has also received additional funding for already existing programs to help implement the new changes.

“This law goes into effect in December of this year and will necessitate increased service requirements for the juvenile court system. With this anticipated growth and need for additional services, the county is constructing a new juvenile justice building to replace the current facility located on Fourth Street. The new building will be three stories and 35,000 square feet and will house court and support functions related to the juvenile court system,” County Spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said during a previous interview.

Nearly $30,000 worth of ‘expansion funds’ have been granted to the county and commissioners are tasked with doling out the money for programs. The funding will expand the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, teen court, and Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.

The state also offered the county an additional $41,128 which the county plans on using for a licensed clinical addiction specialist, a new community service and restitution program assistant, and additional training for clinical staff.

Raising the age (for some, not all)

Once an adult, always an adult means repeat offending teens can be tried as adults with previous convictions. (Port City Daily/Courtesy NCDPS)

Like most legislation, the new law is not completely black and white.

While some offenders will now be considered juvenile, there are still crimes that those aged 16–17 can and will be charged as adults.

It is also worth noting the new law will not extend to teens who commit violent crimes or commit motor vehicle infractions that fall under a specific category.

There is also the idea of ‘once an adult, always an adult.’ This means that repeat offenders, who have previously been found guilty of crimes as an adult will be tried as an adult in the future (see the chart above for more specifics).

According to the Department of Public Safety, there are also other new categories of juveniles excluded from the new law.

“Some juveniles are excluded from juvenile jurisdiction. Those who have previously been transferred to and convicted in superior court continue to be excluded from juvenile jurisdiction. Emancipated and married juveniles are excluded from juvenile jurisdiction. Newly excluded juveniles are those that: 

  • Have been convicted in either district or superior court for a felony or misdemeanor. The exception for this reads, “Violations of the motor vehicle laws punishable as a misdemeanor or infraction shall not be considered a conviction for the purposes of this subsection unless the conviction is for an offense involving impaired driving as defined by G.S. 20-4.01(24a).” This exception means that all felony Chapter 20 convictions will result in exclusion from juvenile jurisdiction, as will a misdemeanor Chapter 20 conviction involving impaired driving. Maximum age of jurisdiction: for 16-year-olds, until age 19; for 17-year-olds, until age 20; beyond maximum age, the court has indefinite jurisdiction over felonies and related misdemeanors to either transfer the case to Superior Court or dismiss the petition”
This chart shows how teens can be tried as adults. (Port City Daily/Courtesy DPS)

Even still, not all felonies will result in a juvenile being charged as an adult.

“Effective Dec. 1, 2019, all criminal cases for juveniles up to age 18 (with the exception of exclusions above) will begin in juvenile court. For Class A-G felony complaints, transfer to adult (superior) court is mandatory upon notice of an indictment, or a finding of probable cause after notice and a hearing; For Class H or I felonies, any transfer to adult (superior) court requires a transfer hearing,” according to the NCDPS.

Class H and I felonies include things like breaking and entering of motor vehicles, possession of marijuana, possession of stolen goods, larceny, possession of cocaine, and more.

Stay tuned for a closer look at how the new law will affect the region’s local law enforcement and court system.

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