New York City

Most 17-year-olds to be diverted from criminal courts, as new law goes into effect

October 1, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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Seventeen-year-olds will no longer be automatically treated as adults in criminal courts in New York State, after the final phase of the 2017 “Raise the Age” law went into effect Tuesday.

The law — as of Oct. 1, 2018 — had already transferred the criminal cases of 16-year-olds from adult criminal court into a new area of the court called the “youth part,” where family court judges preside over cases. Cases for youth offenders can be further moved from the youth part to family court, depending on the severity of the crime.

“Since the first phase of Raise the Age was implemented last October, it has already made a huge difference and proved its success by transferring 16-year-olds to age-appropriate courts that are equipped with the programming essential for serving them,” said Dawne Mitchell, who runs the Juvenile Rights Practice at the Legal Aid Society.

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“We are confident that this last phase will prove equally successful for the vast majority of 17-year-olds entering the system, who will now have access to court processes, services and resources that are proven to be most appropriate for them, thereby improving public safety and giving these young people the chance they deserve.”

The first phase of the law was implemented to varying degrees of success throughout the city, with Brooklyn leading the way, transferring 16-year-olds out of criminal court and into family court 92 percent of the time. The citywide statistics hover around 79 percent. Queens trailed the other boroughs, transferring 16-year-old adolescent offenders out of criminal court just 57 percent of the time.

The implementation for 16-year-olds was not entirely smooth, though, and the influx of 17-year-olds into the new youth system has some defense attorneys worried about long waits between initial arrests and when the youth offenders get seen in court.

Brooklyn’s district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, has been supportive of Raise the Age. He was the only DA in the state tapped in 2017 to be part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Raise the Age Implementation Task Force.

The new law moves all misdemeanor cases for 16- and 17-year-olds into family court. All non-violent felonies are transferred from the youth part to family court, unless the district attorney files a motion within a month challenging the transfer. A judge then determines whether or not to move the case from the youth part to family court.

Even violent felonies committed by 16- and 17-year-olds can be moved from the youth part of criminal court to family court under the law, unless the defendant is charged with “displaying a deadly weapon in furtherance of the offense, causing significant physical injury, or engaging in unlawful sexual conduct.”


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