HB 725 Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act – better known as the “Raise the Age” bill stalled in the Long Session this year. Although the bill was introduced in the House, it has not made its way out. A bill similar to HB 725 was introduced in the 2012 Legislative Session and was not successful then either. Legislators will have to wait until next year to see if they can get the bill through even though it has many opponents.
HB 725 is a bill that would raise the age from 16 to 18 at which defendants in misdemeanor cases would go directly to an adult court. This bill would also create a committee to oversee the implementation of the law.
The third edition of the bill is what is being put to rest for this year. With the bill not moving through the whole General Assembly this year, changes have had to been made as to when the committee would begin and when deliverables should be expected. While the original bill specified that raising the age would begin in 2016, the revised bill would now start to raise the age in 2019. Is there a reason that the committee would need extra time to implement the law if it were to be changed?
One change to the bill that does provide a good parameter is under Section 5b. Section 5b states:
Any juvenile, including a juvenile who is under the jurisdiction of the court, who commits a criminal offense on or after the juvenile has reached the age of 17 18 years is subject to prosecution as an adult. A juvenile who is emancipated shall be prosecuted as an adult for the commission of a criminal offense.
Section 5 begins to address the concerns that repeat juvenile offenders being able to take advantage of the system, but does not address them all Yet what if a juvenile is charged with a felony but pleads to a misdemeanor? While we are giving those defendants a chance to be treated as a juvenile, what if they commit a serious crime that is first charged as a felony?
This bill raises other troubling questions, including whether such treatment is suitable for crimes labeled as misdemeanors that nevertheless are serious acts, such as assault by pointing a gun, assault inflicting serious injury, or resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer.
Several critics of the bill have said they believe that bill will affect the whole criminal justice system. Phil Berger Jr., the Conference of District Attorneys President, said, “Dumping 9,000 adults into the juvenile system isn’t just a bad idea, it’s potentially dangerous. There are diversion programs available which allow young people to wipe a one-time mistake off their records. This bill encourages more slaps on the wrist from a broken juvenile system, and it costs taxpayers nearly $70 million per year. “
At the base of all this is the basic question: Should we really be letting 16- and 17-year-olds get two more years of getting away with committing adult crimes yet be charged as juveniles? Remember, a version of this bill fell short in 2012 as well. If the bill has not had the backing for several years that suggests a number of lawmakers share these concerns.