New York passed sweeping legislation overhauling how its criminal justice system treats teenagers, the central tenet of which is a new rule prohibiting the state from trying juveniles under the age of 18 as adults. The Empire State was one of only two that tried 16-year-olds as adults, and continues a trend of states no longer subjecting teenagers to adult criminal prosecution and incarceration.
While some stipulations of the new law are straightforward, some provisions and their implementation may get a little complicated.
The Simple Part
Under the new law, misdemeanor criminal cases against 16- and 17-year-olds will be heard in family court. And those teens will no longer be held in county jails with adults.
After that, the legal reforms get a little murky. "All we had to simply do is say that we're going to take 16- and 17-year-olds and we're going to treat them just like 15-year-olds," New York State Senator Kevin S. Parker told the New York Times. "That's all we had to do, right? All we had to do. And we messed that up."
The Not-So-Simple Parts
So how did the state legislature "mess that up"? The first is the rollout date, or, to be exact, rollout dates. As the ABA Journal reported, the new regulations will take effect October 2018 for 16-year-olds, but won't be in place for 17-year-olds until October 2019.
And then there's how the court system will deal with juveniles charged with non-violent felonies. Those cases will in criminal court, but will be diverted to a new section known as "youth part" and be tried in front of judges trained in family court law. The cases would then be automatically sent to family court after 30 days unless prosecutors demonstrate "extraordinary circumstances." But, as the New York Times notes, that termed has yet to be legally defined.
And 16- and 17-year-olds charged with violent felonies could still be tried as adults if the case meets three criteria:
- The victim sustained significant physical injury;
- The accused used a weapon; or
- The accused engaged in criminal sexual conduct.
While part of a larger movement of states away from trying young teens as adults, New York will have time to iron out the small details before the new regulations take effect.
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