Parents in the Hudson Valley need to know about an important change to the way New York’s criminal justice system treats young people charged with a crime. Last year, New York enacted what is commonly known as the “Raise the Age Law.” It went into effect on the first of this month, and will be fully phased in over the next couple of years. It will bring changes to various aspects of the criminal justice system as it relates to youth, including the types of courts that will have jurisdiction of those cases, the types of sentences that may be imposed on youth, and the types of facilities in which they may be detained.
Under the previous laws, beginning at age 16, offenders in New York State were, for the most part, treated as adults, in adult criminal court. Aside from eligibility for Youthful Offender (“Y/O”) status, which is determined by an adult criminal court judge at the time of sentencing, offenders aged 16 and 17 who plead or were found guilty of the charged offenses were convicted as criminals and, if incarcerated, were sent to adult facilities. Only if granted Y/O status at sentencing could the youth avoid having a criminal record. However, even Y/O status did not in all instances guarantee that the youth avoided serving time in an adult facility, i.e. state prison!
Effective October 1, 2018 for 16 year olds, and October 1, 2019 for seventeen year olds, Raise the Age will divert criminal cases either to Family Court or to the soon-to-be created “Youth Parts” of criminal court. Under the new law, all misdemeanor cases, except drunk driving cases, will be processed in Family Court. This means that the cases will be processed as Juvenile Delinquency (“J/D”) cases. In the past, most cases involving youth aged 15 or younger were brought in Family Court as J/D cases. A J/D cases end in a finding of juvenile delinquency, which is not a conviction of a crime, and thereby does not create a criminal record.
Now, felony cases will start in criminal court, but in “youth parts” where judges will have family law experience. Non-violent felony cases will be transferred to Family Court unless a prosecutor makes a motion within thirty (30) days alleging that extraordinary circumstances require the case be maintained in the youth part of criminal court. Violent felony cases may transfer to Family Court, depending on the nature of the offense. In some violent felony circumstances, a prosecutor will have to make a motion within (30) days alleging extraordinary circumstances require the case to remain in the youth part of criminal court in order to prevent transfer to Family Court. In other violent felony circumstances, cases may be ineligible for transfer to Family Court. Felony drunk driving cases will also be ineligible to transfer to Family Court, and will remain in the youth part.
Of these felony cases, those that are sent to Family Court will be processed as J/D cases, and the youths will not have criminal records. Those 16 or 17 year olds whose cases remain in the youth part will be classified as “adolescent offenders”. Adolescent offenders will be subject to criminal conviction and adult sentencing schemes, but the judge will be required to consider the defendant’s age in sentencing. Adolescent offenders, if eligible to receive a Y/O adjudication, will still be able to avoid a criminal conviction under the existing Y/O rules. A key difference, however, is that going forward under Raise the Age, these 16 and 17 year olds, whether granted Y/O status or not, will no longer be permitted to be placed in adult facilities when incarcerated. Instead, they will be placed in adolescent facilities that will be jointly managed by the Department of Corrections and the Office of Children and Family Services, and tailored to the needs of youth.
There are many other aspects to the Raise the Age law, and many other aspects of the way existing law deals with youthful offenders, that could not be summarized in this short blog. If you are a parent with a teen who is accused of any type of offense, it is important to contact a qualified Hudson Valley criminal defense attorney at once to receive a proper analysis of your child’s situation.
He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.