On Monday New York signed a major bill that would no longer automatically consider 16 and 17-year-olds adults in criminal court. Before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the controversial bill this week, New York and North Carolina were the only two states to still try teenagers as adults.
Called the ‘Raise the Age’ bill, it essentially redirects individuals who are 17 years old and younger to family court for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Issues with the bill come from the many stipulations and qualifications for crimes to be considered “serious enough” for criminal court.
As reported by The New York Times:
Some sections of the new law are simple: 16- and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors — who make up the vast majority of juveniles arrested — would have their cases handled in Family Court. The picture gets more complicated, however, with nonviolent felony cases, which would still start in Criminal Court, albeit in a new section known as “youth part” and in front of judges trained in Family Court law.
Once there, the 16- and 17-year-olds would be automatically sent to Family Court after 30 days unless a district attorney proved “extraordinary circumstances,” a term that is undefined in the law. Those arrested in violent felony cases — which make up about 1 percent of the more than 20,000 juvenile charges in New York per year — could also be diverted from youth part if they pass a three-part test: whether the victim sustained significant physical injury, whether the accused used a weapon, and whether the perpetrator engaged in criminal sexual conduct.
The law will also change rules for the detention of juveniles in places like Rikers Island. Beginning Oct. 1, 2018, offenders under 17 will no longer be held in county jails, with a similar rule for 18-year-olds taking effect a year later.
The legislation is said to have been inspired by Kalief Browder, the 22-year-old who committed suicide in his Bronx home, after being charged as an adult at the age of 17 and sent to Riker’s Island— where he spent over 1,000 days in solitary confinement.
Browder’s brother Akeem was present for the bill signing in addition to Rev. Al Sharpton and former U.S. Representative Charles Rangel.
“We have not done everything I would have liked to have done, to have seen,” Senator Velmanette Montgomery of Staten Island said in regards to the lack of cut and dry guidelines. “But at least we have changed the direction.”