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Raise the Age is good news for New York teenagers

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Part of New York's Raise the Age legislation will raise the age of criminal responsibility for some teenagers. It takes effect in October 2018 for 16-year-olds and October 2019 for 17-year-olds. It also puts the state in line with the huge majority of other states.

New York currently is one of just two states that automatically prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. One reason for this law is that the state has recognized that the brains of 16- and 17-year-olds are still developing. These teens may not fully grasp the consequences of any criminal acts, and prosecuting them as if they do is unfair.

The state has also recognized the pitfalls of adult prisons for young offenders. For one thing, older, savvier and bigger prisoners can pose serious physical threats to teenagers. Also, these adult prisons do not provide the rehabilitative services that juvenile offenders would get. Perhaps most importantly, research shows that teenagers placed in adult prisons are more likely to reoffend.

A look at the age change

The law creates the Adolescent Offender, or AO, a special classification for 16- and 17-year-olds who are accused of felonies. By default, a judge hears their cases in family court. When incarceration is necessary pending the trial, a teen will go to a specialized facility for similar-age peers.

However, just because they are not automatically prosecuted as adults does not mean they cannot be. For youths charged with violent felonies involving extraordinary circumstances -- such as those involving sex crimes, debilitating physical injuries or use of firearms --, there is a three-part test that determines if the case should stay in family court. Failing that test means being tried as an adult. For nonviolent felonies, a prosecutor has 30 days to show extraordinary circumstances.

Sealing criminal records

The new law should also help seal records for many who have convictions. There are a number of criteria that must be met in order to qualify. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help.

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