The fate of young people facing criminal charges is a much-discussed topic in criminal justice law and reform. In North Carolina, a new law was passed just over a year ago to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to remain in the juvenile system, rather than being prosecuted as adults. In its first year on the books, this law impacted the sentencing of 4,300 teens across the state.
The law is officially entitled the “Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act,” and was passed on Dec. 1, 2019. The goal of the law was to give older teenagers a chance to utilize juvenile service, in hopes that this system would better prepare them for responsible adult life. Being sentenced as an adult could mean an unshakeable criminal record which would hinder future prospects, something that advocates of the law say hinders rehabilitation efforts.
North Carolina was among the last states to make this change, with several attempts being defeated over the years. It covers 16 and 17-year-olds who have been accused of lower-level, nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. The legislation applied to new cases only, meaning that teens charged as adult in the past stayed in the adult system. Those charged with more serious crimes can also still be tried as adults.
When it comes to criminal defense, the decision of whether an individual will be tried as an adult or juvenile is one with serious implications. North Carolina has legislation on the books, including the Raise the Age law, to guide the decisions about charges and sentencing. However, regardless of the charges one faces, any accused person at any age has a right to a defense. It is therefore a good idea to reach out to an experienced and knowledgeable North Carolina lawyer as soon as possible when being accused or even investigated for a crime.