It was 1971 when the voting age in the US was set to 18 years of age. Prior to that it was 21. At 18, a child legally becomes an adult. That independence grants many benefits, but it includes a new range of consequences and punishment too. The general attitude across the country is that people are responsible for their actions at 18. That they are adults.
Yet, for years, North Carolina has automatically sent 16- and 17-year-olds to adult court. The Tar Heel State was the last state in the country with this policy, and it changed this month under a law known as Raise The Age.
A better record equals better opportunity
While North Carolina was the last state to make such a change, the time is right. The movement began in 2017 when it passed the legislature with bipartisan support. The effort, advocates say, has both public and individual benefits.
It saves the public money, studies show, plus it promotes public safety because many people convicted in adult court commit repeat offenses at a rate of two-to-one when compared to juvenile offenders. In other words, a person sent through the juvenile justice system is half as likely to be a repeat offender as somebody sent through the adult justice system. It is called recidivism when a person cycles through jail or prison repeatedly.
Besides reducing recidivism under Raise The Age, offenders have the benefit of a clean slate and a clear criminal record upon turning 18. Juvenile records are confidential and are far less detrimental to future job, education and financial opportunities.
There are always exceptions
Raise The Age is a big change, but it’s still a criminal justice matter where the consequences – and penalties – are high. The rule change applies specifically to nonviolent and non-motor vehicle charges. Those will still be adult cases. Similarly, any minor with an existing adult record is likely to face adult charges going forward.
The changes will increase the burden on juvenile courts but reduce the burden on both adult courts and the public sector. The state is addressing this overhaul with new budgets, hiring and training.
Any legal accusation is serious, and the consequences – whether in juvenile court or adult court – will leave an impact. It’s important to treat any charges seriously. Consider both the penalties today, but also the long-term potential consequences of any decision. Patrick Roberts is a former juvenile crimes prosecutor who now focuses on criminal defense at Roberts Law Group, PLLC, and Associate Attorney Phylicia M. Powers has extensive juvenile justice defense experience.