New Report on Juvenile Justice and the Juvenile Age

The district court judges are conferring this week at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord. I don’t know if robes are allowed on waterslides, but I expect that the judges will be pretty focused on business in any event. Among other topics, reports indicate that they’ll be hearing from former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton about raising the juvenile age from 16 to 18. As many readers know, that idea has been around a long time, and North Carolina is one of only two states that set the juvenile age at 16.

Coincidentally, a group called Campaign for Youth Justice released a report last week about juvenile justice reforms. (The press release is here and the full report is here.) It asserts that “[o]ver the past eight years, twenty-three states have enacted forty pieces of legislation to reduce the prosecution of youth in adult criminal courts and end the placement of youth in adult jails and prisons.” Specifically, the report notes that both Illinois and Massachusetts have recently raised their juvenile cutoffs from 17 to 18 years old.

Do the changes noted by the report signal coming change in North Carolina? The report certainly suggests that there is momentum for further reform. As it pertains to North Carolina, the report highlighted the changes to the sentencing laws made in response to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), which held that “mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment[].” Shortly after Miller, the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2012-148, creating new G.S. 15A-1476 et seq. (allowing, and in some cases requiring, a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 25 years for defendants who were under 18 at the time they committed first-degree murder).

I don’t attach much significance to the fact that the General Assembly made a change that was constitutionally mandated. Nor is reform in other states necessarily a harbinger of change in North Carolina. But there is certainly continued interest in the juvenile age issue among advocates (as the report itself shows) and among influential court actors (as the judges’ conference agenda indicates). Another legislative session convenes in May, so stay tuned.

9 thoughts on “New Report on Juvenile Justice and the Juvenile Age”

  1. North Carolina could care less about the kids and the extreme sentencing they give the kids.
    Especially when the defendant , knowing nothing of law has a idiot lawyer that is ready to prosecute his own client.
    Case Brock Franklin Charlotte north carolina, George Laughrun prosecuted his own client.
    Your Honor I can’t tell you how many I have gotten arrested and put in prison. This was the start of hid defense statement for his client Brock Franklin.
    Wow we did not know a lawyer representing a client would through you under the bus and can sleep at night knowing he did not investigate, have a file, and took his own client to be interrogated by the famous ADA Marsha Goodenow.
    I would like to tell everyone , this boy went to prison with blood and fluid still on the brain. He had a TBI.
    Bolt draining the fluid. Resuscitated 2X.
    Laughrun had no idea where Brock’s blood went to.
    But 6 months later rec’d BAC 8 months later drugs in system.
    Yes Brock was drugged at a party. He was also fought and beaten.
    20 or more people said they could not stop him from leaving the party after he had been there for an hour and get this drank ll beers high potency within this hour.
    His BAC was supposedly .l2
    Look up the bac chart . ll beers in that time off the chart.
    the drugs , said he rec’d at the hospital.
    What the SBI did was put on the paper the drugs for protocal .
    They did not state trace or amount.’
    In the courtroom they stated (the ADA, the State HWy Patrol and yes even Brock’s lawyer that Brock had Xanax in his system) but on the SBI papers it said midazalam.
    Not the same drug.
    The Prosecutor needed Brock as a political pawn, an example for a high society community. For the school Brock went to. So she could show the people at school what would happen to someone if you drink and drive.
    This is my son.
    God has looked after him.
    he went to prison in a daze.
    Laughrun did not care about him his client at all.
    They withheld statements with reasonable doubt.
    the civil found this out.
    it was too late. Brock thought he had to take the plea.
    Ms,. Goodenow was going to charge lst degree.
    idiots in nc
    saw yesterday on tv man gets involuntary manslaughter for basically the same.
    but he was not beaten, drugged and thrown to the wolves like brock.
    thats okay , we will get through this.
    i just hope there is such a thing as Karma.
    I think there is, because the ADA was fired soon after all of this.
    But I also hope karma comes around for Laughrun who is representing the CMPD officer Kerrick right now who shot a football player l0 times.
    I really hope everyone sees how corrupt and also dumb this man is.

    • It is yet another sad day for America’s youth. Our Juvenile Justice system is in a bad place today and it does not seem to be moving very fast toward rectifying it’s way in error.

    • Robin– what George Laughrun did to your son and his family is nothing short of criminal. I cannot believe he would consign a teenaged defendant charged with second degree murder to 13 years in prison and force him the serve all 13 years. Even had Brock been convicted there was always the possibility of parole but what Laughrun did guaranteed a long a cruel prison sentence and the prosecutors didn’t even have to “malicious intent” beyond a reasonable doubt.
      People really have to be careful with the lawyers they get themselves involved with. Often times they’re little more than prostitutes with the exception they may hate their clients even more than the typical prostitute hates her clients.

  2. I’ve struggled with this 16/18 question for awhile and have come down on the side of keeping the (prosecutable) juvenile age at 16.

    By 16 most juveniles should have a fair understanding about what is right and wrong. Just as one compelling argument for allowing people to vote at the age of 18 was that they were also eligible to be drafted, fight, and die for the country at 18 (and should perhaps have some say in the political process that might send them off to war), so at 16 young men and women are afforded the considerable responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. If one argues that a person at 16 can’t possibly be mature enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, or is still too emotionally underdeveloped to be held accountable for their actions, then please, as part of raising the juvenile age to 18, let’s bump up the age for acquiring a driver’s license to 18 as well. From 16 to 17, learner’s permits. I don’t see how you can reason that a “kid” is mature enough to follow the (multitude) or rules of the road, but not mature enough to be held responsible for decisions he makes that impact other people.

    I don’t deny that there are maturity issues concerning teens and criminal behavior (I just don’t think it should be an all-purpose excuse), and so I think part of the solution could be adding as a mitigating factor to the sentencing process the person’s age and possibly if that young person was under the care, control, or influence of an older adult. A 16 year old who has been conscripted into a gang and is influenced to sell drugs is different than a 16 year old who steals her parents Oxy and sells them at school. These sort of scenarios require the Robed Ones to inject a bit of compassion and logic into the courtroom proceeding, but they also need the legal tools to do this.

  3. I believe this is a very relevant question, and am sorry that this legal standard is not grounded in scientific evidence on brain development.

    This is akin to it taking years for the legal system to absorb, understand, and implement the scientific certainty behind DNA evidence.

    Human brains, until about age 25, show sufficient cellular immaturity to support a legal decision to raise the juvenile age to 25 or 20 at the very least.

    This is fairly well accepted in medical literature as an established finding with studies replicating this data over the past 15+ years. Cellular immaturity can be seen at a microscopic level, and also can be visualized at a functional level using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

    Between the ages of 15-25 the brain undergoes many subtle changes.

    Adolescent/young adult brains are not wired to have good impulse control, judgment or decision-making, even though the youth has sufficient intelligence/knowledge.

    This is because knowledge and impulsivity are mediated by 2 different areas of the brain, and they mature at different rates.

    Ask any insurance agent: their premiums decline for drivers (especially males) after the age of 25*.

    Setting the juvenile age at 16 or 18 is an arbitrary cut-off with little basis in scientific knowledge.

    (*So just to be fair and not let we doctors off the hook, this is an example of what the medical field took years to discover, which the insurance statisticians already knew.)

  4. The juvenile justice system in North Carolina is simply incapable of handling the increase caseload of 16 and 17 year olds. As of right now at least in large population areas, it is very difficult to obtain secure custody orders for juveniles because of limited juvenile confinement space and also due to the rather overly bureaucratic and inefficient process of juvenile court counselors. If the age change is made, it is my opinion that the law should be changed to allow law enforcement officers to get secure custody orders from magistrates without the involvement of a court counselor or district court judge.


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