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Juveniles tried as adults: who should decide?

The juvenile justice system is under debate again over a new bill proposed in North Carolina that would allow prosecutors to determine whether a juvenile offender is tried as an adult. House Bill 217 would give North Carolina prosecutors the discretion to try juveniles age 13 and older as adults in the criminal justice system.

Currently, judges in the juvenile court system decide which juvenile offenders will be tried as adults and many judges take into consideration the severity of the crime, along with several other factors before deciding which court to try the youth offender in.

Like any juvenile justice bill proposed in North Carolina, there is much debate surrounding this bill. Juvenile court judges and defense attorneys are opposed to the bill, saying that judges are the best ones to decide how a juvenile is charged because they have the best interests of the community and the juvenile in mind.

Those opposed claim that sending more teenagers to adult prisons will not improve the safety of the community because many juveniles sent to adult prisons end up reoffending instead of receiving treatment or being involved in community outreach programs. Opponents also said that prosecutors are not as impartial as judges and they may feel obligated to send a certain number of juveniles to the adult system to crackdown on crime, regardless of how serious the offenses are.

While many have voiced their opposition to the bill, many prosecutors are in favor of passing the bill. Prosecutors said that they should have a say in how juvenile offenders are charged, especially for offenders who commit serious felony crimes.

If the proposed bill is passed, prosecutors would decide whether or not to charge teenage offenders as adults for certain felony crimes instead of juvenile court judges. This could mean that more juveniles would end up being charged as adults in North Carolina but only time will tell if and when the bill is passed by lawmakers in the state.

Source: WSOC, "Bill would allow prosecutors to decide whether to try juveniles as adults," Mark Becker, March 20, 2013

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