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Higher Age Of Juvenile Prosecution Becomes Law In NC

Bill Oxford

The minimum age for prosecution in North Carolina's juvenile courts will rise later this year from 6 to 8 in legislation signed into law Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The increase, which marks a compromise from a 10-year-old minimum pushed by many legislators during this year's session, will remove North Carolina’s status as the state with the lowest age for juvenile adjudication set by law in the country.

The measure,which received near-unanimous support from the General Assembly, was one of 11 that Cooper signed into law Monday. He also vetoed two measures — one that would have eliminated the requirement that a local sheriff issue a permit to handgun purchasers and the other that addressed rules for people living in hotels and inns.

The juvenile justice law says that, starting in December, 8- and 9-year-olds subject to juvenile court adjudication will be limited to those who commit the most severe — and usually violent — felonies or are repeat offenders. Children declared delinquent will have access to intense services and even probation. Those accused of low-grade felonies or misdemeanors will be treated like those under age 8, meaning they will likely receive counseling while bypassing the juvenile court process.

North Carolina’s 6-year-old minimum of delinquency jurisdiction began in 1979. Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have no age specification, according to a North Carolina Department of Public Safety report in March. Connecticut, Maryland and New York set the minimum age at 7.

Child advocates who sought the blanket under-10 prohibition say such young offenders lack the intellectual capacity to understand the juvenile court proceedings and assist in their defense. A juvenile justice task force also had recommended raising the age of delinquency to 10, but local prosecutors and some House members raised objections, saying counseling wasn't enough to address serious crimes.

An official in Cooper's Cabinet agency involved in juvenile justice had urged a legislative committee to accept the 8-year minimum, saying the bill still would likely remove nearly all of the youths from juvenile courts that an under-10 ban would, citing offender data. The bill contains other alterations to juvenile justice procedures in light of recent changes to the system.

Other bills that Cooper signed Monday ease slightly the state's certificate of need laws, which require state regulatory approval before hospitals can expand and some new equipment can be used; require K-12 school boards to vote at least monthly this school year on whether to change face-covering policies for students and staff; and give a state commission more tools to assist cities and towns in fiscal trouble.

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