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Judge Rules That Prosecuting Sixteen-Year-Old as Adult Violates His Constitutional Rights: What This Means for Other Juveniles Accused of Crimes in North Carolina


A decision made by a North Carolina judge in late October that charging a 16-year-old as an adult violated both the eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th (due process) Amendments will have significant repercussions for all juveniles charged in the state. Meanwhile, the state’s “Raise the Age” law goes into effect this December, which means that 16 and 17-year-olds who commit nonviolent crimes will no longer automatically be charged as adults. It also means that these minors will have greater access to both services and a sealed criminal record.

In North Carolina, 94 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds are in the system due to charges associated with breaking and entering, check forgery, and larceny, as was the case for this particular juvenile defendant. The Superior Court Judge held that he was deprived of his rights to be treated as a minor, which he was when he committed these crimes.

State Raise the Age Law Goes into Effect in December

It has taken North Carolina more than a decade to pass a Raise the Age law, and it took extensive research concerning the development of adolescent brains, which affects decision-making skills and impulse control well into someone’s 20s. In addition, incarcerating them simply increases the likelihood that they will commit future criminal acts. As a result, North Carolina’s legislation will now send 16- and 17-year olds accused of low-level, Class H and I felonies and misdemeanors (which covers most-all juveniles) to juvenile court instead of trying them as adults.

Those Who Will Still Fall Through the Cracks

Other offenses that are more serious will continue to go to adult court. In addition, more than 20,000 16- and 17-year-olds are charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies in North Carolina each year, and the legislation does not address what should happen for those 20,000 some juveniles convicted between when the legislation was passed (2017) and when it will go into effect (December 2019). As a result, this has largely been left up to each District Attorney, some of which have elected to treat minors accused during this time as though the new law is already in effect, and some of which have not. In addition, while the judge’s decision will likely be helpful to those currently charged in the counties that have elected to still treat minors under the old law, it is important to keep in mind that cases that are settled may very well be treated differently because it is a completely different type of relief sought.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Juvenile Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one who is a minor and has been charged with a crime, you need an experienced North Carolina criminal attorney working tirelessly by your side to ensure that your constitutional rights are protected. Contact the Hauter Law Firm, PC today to find out how our attorneys can best serve your needs.



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