The House overwhelmingly passed a measure on Wednesday to end the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in most criminal cases.
Currently a defendant who is at least 16 years old but is not an adult is charged as an adult in Superior Court instead of going through the juvenile court system. Under changes included in HB280, only defendants charged with Class A, B1, B, C, D and E felonies would be automatically sent to Superior Court.
Defendants in Class F, G, H, or I felonies could have their cases upgraded to Superior Court based on the petition of the prosecutor or the defense attorney, or on a motion of the court itself.
The only House votes against the effort came from eight Republican members, but three legislators were in the chamber who did not vote on the measure including Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who usually does not vote when calling a vote. It is uncommon for other legislators to not cast a ballot in floor votes.
Reps. James Boles (R-Moore), Mark Brody (R-Anson), George Cleveland (R-Onslow), Jeff Collins (R-Nash), Jeffrey Elmore (R-Alleghany), Carl Ford (R-Rowan), Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), and Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) voted against measure.
Rep. George Graham (D-Greene) and Rep. John Sauls (R-Harnett) did not vote on the legislation but were not on the excused absence list, according to legislative records.
The “Raise the Age” campaign has been running in the state for several years and has always found resistance in the Senate, but with the proposal already included in the Senate’s $22.9 billion budget passed last week, this may be the session that will see the bill passed however the bill was read in to the Senate on Thursday and was placed in the Senate Rules Committee where legislation usually goes to die.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) sponsored the bill, saying that it is an effort to have more 16- and 17-year-olds rehabilitated through the juvenile court system rather than toss them into the adult prison system.
“The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, I believe, will improve the justice system’s response to teenagers under the age of 18,” McGrady said. “Studies show recidivism is lower when teens are handled in the juvenile system rather than the adult system. We can afford this. Part of the issue in the past was we were trying to raise the age at a time the budget was in pretty poor shape.”
The change will add an estimated $25 million in the next fiscal year and $44 million in the year after that to the juvenile court system.
Another section of the bill would provide victims of crimes an opportunity to request reviews of decisions to not bring juvenile charges and would increase the information available on juveniles for court proceedings.
The portion of the bill raising the age would become active December 2019 and the section allowing for victims of crimes to request a review of decisions not to file petitions to treat a case in juvenile court would become active in the new fiscal year July 1.