In 2017, North Carolina lawmakers passed a law that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes. This means that 16- and 17-year-olds who allegedly commit nonviolent crimes in the state will not be automatically charged as adults.

North Carolina is the last state to automatically charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. However, when the “raise the age” law goes into effect on December 1, youth accused of nonviolent crimes will go through the juvenile justice system instead of the adult justice system.

Why this change matters

This change is important because those who go through the juvenile justice system may have access to various benefits that the adult justice system does not offer. Juvenile courts typically impose consequences that aim to rehabilitate, rather than punish, youth.

As a result, records of juvenile proceedings are confidential, which can help prevent damaging impacts on a youth’s future. Judges of juvenile cases can also help offenders get any help they may need to turn their lives around. This may include the help of psychologists, substance abuse counselors, family members, guardians or others.

The new law will not affect every case

Starting December 1, juvenile courts will handle cases involving anyone under age 18 who allegedly committed a misdemeanor, Class H felony or Class I felony. This accounts for about 94% of 16- and 17-year-olds who are charged with crimes in the state.

Adult courts will continue to handle cases that allegedly involve more serious offenses, such as violent felonies and motor vehicle offenses. Also, judges will probably not apply the law retroactively to cases.

If your child or teen has been accused of crimes, it may be wise to help him or her pursue the best possible outcomes in court. Lawmakers changed juvenile jurisdiction to protect youth. However, those accused of committing crimes may still need additional protections to receive fair outcomes in court.