More than five years of lobbying, arm twisting and a fair dose of shaming finally paid off. North Carolina voted Monday to end its status as the only state in the country that still automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults, no matter the crime.
Texas state Rep. Gene Wu is getting frustrated. Legislatures around the country are voting to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles while his own state remains in a shrinking — and he says wrongheaded — club that charges them as adults, no matter the crime. Neighboring Louisiana acted last year, as did South Carolina, leaving just seven states nationwide that still prosecute all youth under 18 as adults.
And then there was one. New York State legislators voted Sunday night to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, capping a contentious budget fight and giving supporters of the measure victory after years of frustration. The vote leaves North Carolina as the only state which still prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, although that may change later this month.
Brett Merfish had a list of reasons why Texas should raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. She pointed to research showing that states that had already adopted the practice saw crime and recidivism reduced and better outcomes for the juveniles and their families.
On August 15, 2012, when most teenagers were enjoying the last few weeks of summer vacation, 16-year-old Fernando Garibay-Benitez was shot in the head outside an apartment complex on Rolling Green Court in Raleigh, N.C. A rising sophomore at Millbrook High School who played soccer, Fernando was dead when police arrived. By the end of the next day, a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old had been arrested in connection with the shooting. Their names have not been released, because state law requires that juvenile court records be withheld from the public absent a court order. The juveniles have been charged with first-degree murder. If the state demonstrates at the next hearing that there is “probable cause” or a reasonable ground to suspect that the youths committed the crime, they will be tried automatically as adults in state superior court. Consistent with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, if convicted they will face sentences of either life without parole or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years imprisonment. It has not always been possible for kids as young as 13 to be prosecuted as adults in North Carolina, but a single case two decades ago brought about a change in the law. When 13-year-old Gregory Gibson brutally murdered an elderly widow in 1992, he was given the harshest penalty available at the time: commitment to juvenile prison (formally known as “training school” or “youth development center”) until his 18th birthday. As a result of public outcry over the state’s inability to try Gibson as an adult, the Legislature subsequently lowered the minimum age of transfer to 13. North Carolina is not alone in its ability to try very young teens in adult criminal court. In fact, more than 30 states allow for this type of “transfer” to occur at age 13 or younger, with approximately 20 states not imposing any age restriction at all for certain offenses.