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Posted: 5:36 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, 2013
By Mark Becker
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
A battle is shaping up in the North Carolina legislature over a bill that would give prosecutors more say in which juveniles are tried as adults. House Bill 217 would let prosecutors decide whether to try juveniles as adults if they are 13 or older and charged with serious felony crimes. The decision is currently up to juvenile court judges, and many of those judges and some defense attorneys are lining up against the bill. "Bad idea," said Robert Singagliese, an assistant public defender in Charlotte. Singagliese said studies show that young teenagers often aren't mature when they make decisions, including decisions to commit crimes. He said that moving more juveniles into the adult system won't help them or make the community safer in the long run, and that judges can decide best if the juvenile is a threat. "I think the judge is in the best position to decide not only the best interest of the juvenile but also the best interest of the community in terms of welfare and safety," Singagliese said. Prosecutors disagree. "There's no reason I shouldn't get to make that decision for a juvenile that commits a serious offense in this community," said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray. Murray said the bill will give prosecutors more leverage against young, violent offenders because the adult court system has more teeth than the juvenile courts. Judges are also lining up against HB 217. "It will undoubtedly increase those hearings which mean additional juvenile time," says Mecklenburg County Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell. Bell said that would take away time from other district courts and add to already crowded dockets. She said prosecutors have a different obligation than judges and may not appear to be as impartial as judges. She added that some prosecutors, who are publicly elected, may push more juveniles into the adult system. "I think the judges are concerned that a district attorney to be tough on crime may make decisions to transfer based on that, rather than the actual needs of the juvenile," she said.
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