New law goes into effect that raises the lower age at which juveniles are taken to court

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:34 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - The new North Carolina “Minimum Age” law that raises the lower age of juvenile jurisdiction from six to 10 for most youth went into effect Wednesday, December 1.

As a result of the North Carolina Senate Bill 207 being signed into law August 30, 2021 to increase the minimum age and provide appropriate mental health assessments for juveniles who are deemed delinquent, six-year-olds will no longer be seen in juvenile courts.

The age of juvenile jurisdiction for all undisciplined offenses (e.g., truancy, runaways and other status offenses) is now 10.

However, an 8- or 9-year-old who either has a prior court judgement (adjudication) of delinquency or who commits a felony A through G offense will remain under juvenile jurisdiction.

“These changes are research-based and cost-beneficial. But, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do,” said Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice William Lassiter. “North Carolina has a rich history of juvenile justice reform that led to massive reductions in juvenile crime and set the stage for continued reforms like raising the upper age and lower age of juvenile jurisdiction.”

Until now, North Carolina had the lowest minimum age in the world to enter the juvenile justice system. National organizations recommend a minimum age of 14 for kids to be thrust into the court system.

The new law also assigns a multi-system Care Review Team to delinquent youth with suspected mental illness, developmental disability, or intellectual disability to recommend a plan for care.

“This group will determine what is the best placement for the youth,” said Juvenile Justice Director of Clinical Services and Programs Peter Kuhns. “I expect this part of the law will highlight some of the mental health issues we have in the state, such as the need for more mental health resources, the need for alternatives to commitment, and the need to invest resources to meet the needs.”

According to a news release from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, the North Carolina juvenile delinquency rate For 6- to 15-year-olds decreased from 27.55 in 2010 to 12.05 per 1,000 youth in 2020, the lowest juvenile delinquency rate on record. Over the past decade (2010-2019), detention center admissions declined 63% and youth development center commitments decreased 59%.

For 16- or 17-year-olds charged with felony class D through G offenses, the law allows for prosecutorial discretion in whether these cases be transferred to superior court.

“Prosecutorial discretion allows prosecutors to decide what is more appropriate for a kid who commits D-G felonies,” said JJAC member and chief district court judge for New Hanover and Pender counties Judge J.H. Corpening, II.

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