“Raise the Age” Law to Take Effect Dec. 1

CHARLOTTE, NC — Big changes are coming to North Carolina’s juvenile justice system. Starting December 1, 16 and 17-year-olds accused of crimes will no longer be automatically charged as adults.

Supporters say it’s a way to give youthful offenders another chance. North Carolina will be the last of the 50 states to “raise the age” on Sunday.

“Now 16 and 17-year-olds who were previously prosecuted as adults will start their case in juvenile court, as long as they’ve never been convicted of a crime before,” says Mecklenburg County District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch.

Trosch thinks it’s a good move.

“Juvenile court is focused on rehabilitation. We’re actually focused on addressing the underlying problems that might have contributed to a child’s delinquent act.”

There will be some exceptions though. Those accused of the most serious crimes like murder, rape and robbery will have their cases transferred to an adult court within 90 days.

“We are prepared for it,” says Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden.

McFadden plans to use Detention Center North to house up to 75 suspects who are under 18.

“We think that we’re going to produce the youth in a better mind frame and set after they leave the detention center.”

There has been some opposition from leaders of groups like CharMeck Court Watch. They argue that this law shields teens from the consequences of their actions.

Trosch argues treating those under 18 as juveniles actually helps keep them from getting in trouble again.

“In adult court, every person who’s charged with an offense is entitled to release, with the most restrictive condition being pay some money,” says Trosch. “Whereas in juvenile, we make the decision, either you are safe to be released into the community with conditions or you’re not.”

The court system is preparing for a 50 percent increase in juvenile cases. The change also means the names of 16 and 17-year-old suspects won’t be released, unless they are charged as an adult.