Attorney J. Bradley Smith answering the question: “Should I talk to the police?”
A battle in the state legislature is brewing over a bill that would grant prosecutors dramatically more power in determining which juveniles are tried as adults. The legislation, House Bill 217, would allow prosecutors to decide whether to try children as adults so long as they are 13 or older and have been charged with certain serious felonies.
North Carolina law currently leaves the decision of whether to try a child in adult court up to juvenile court judges. The measure has sparked a huge outcry from judges and defense attorneys who say giving prosecutors so much power is a bad move. Many believe that judges are in the best position to weigh not only the best interest of the child, but also the best interest of the community before making such an important decision.
Some defense attorneys have worried that prosecutors, who are often required to appear tough on crime, will have very little incentive to keep children in the juvenile justice system. The problem is that the community is seldom made safer by trying kids as adults. Additionally, the children are almost never helped by being moved into an adult prison system that is not equipped to care for them or offer much in the way of rehabilitation.
Prosecutors, unsurprisingly, are all for HB 217. District attorneys from across the state have lined up to insist that passage is important to allow them to more effectively do their jobs. They claim that by having the power to choose whether to prosecute kids as adults, it gives them more leverage against young offenders who are much more wary of being tossed into the adult criminal justice system.
North Carolinians should remember that prosecutors are publicly elected. News of a prosecutor deciding not to try a child in the event of an especially heinous crime could spell the end of his or her career. This looming threat of damaging public opinion could unfortunately work to the harm of the children that are brought to court. Rather than conduct a meaningful investigation into the value of remaining in the juvenile system or being bumped up into the adult system, prosecutors have a great incentive to push for the harshest punishment possible to appear tough to voters. This does a disservice not only to the children impacted by the choice, but also the community which is given a false sense of security by mistakenly believing that throwing the book at young teens actually helps make them safer.
Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828.
“NC should say no to trying 13-year-olds in adult court,” by Judge Marcia Morey, published at NewsObserver.com.
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