CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The “raise the age” law goes into effect in two months across North Carolina.
The goal of the new law is to prevent 16- and 17-year-olds who commit minor offenses from ending up in prison, though there are questions as to how the law would apply to more serious crimes.
In just the past week, Channel 9 has reported on two cases of teens charged with murder and attempted murder in Mecklenburg County.
On Monday, police said 16-year-old Raheem Shacklette shot an innocent bystander near the Epicentre. He has been charged with attempted murder.
In a separate case, Keniya Guyton, 17, is accused of two murders that happened at an apartment complex on Barrington Drive.
If either crime had happened two months from now, both Shacklette and Guyton would have been considered minors, so the public would have known little about the case -- and that worries a lot of people.
Cheryl Jones with Courtwatch said raising the age of juveniles from 15 to 17 will only shield many of them from serious consequences by keeping them in a juvenile system that hasn't worked.
"With all of the programs that they have to help put these kids on the straight and narrow. It hasn't worked. So why do you think two more years is going to work?" Jones said.
On Thursday, the district attorney’s office and other local leaders met to talk through how to treat those cases under the new law.
Currently, all 16- and 17-year-olds are charged as adults, but in two months when the law goes into effect they’ll be tried as juveniles -- except in these most serious cases.
At the meeting, officials learned almost all 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious felonies like robbery, rape and murder will have their cases transferred to adult court within 90 days.
Under the new law, 16 and 17-year-olds convicted as juveniles would be sentenced to a juvenile detention facility and could only be held until their 19 and 20 birthdays respectively.
Emily Tamilin with the Council for Children's Rights said keeping young defendants out of the public eye, even for a few months, will help everyone step back and make sure they're getting it right.
"We've got 16- and 17-year-olds, they can't vote, they can't engage in a lot of adult activities, and yet we're ready to sentence them to public opinion even before we understand what the context of the case is," Tamilin said.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden told Channel 9 last month that he's expecting more teens to fill up the county's jail north.
He's changing the jail experience by adding programs and uniforms instead of jumpsuits.
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