Governor Endorses Raising Age of Criminal Responsibility

, New York Law Journal

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ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday backed an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16, a change also championed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The governor said in his State of the State address that New York and North Carolina are the only states that allow teens as young as 16 to be prosecuted in adult criminal courts.

"Our juvenile justice laws are outdated," Cuomo declared.

He added to the applause by those gathered at a state convention center near the state Capitol, by saying, "It's not right. It's not fair. We must raise the age. Let's form a commission on youth public safety and justice and let's get it done this year."

In a book released by the governor's office after Wednesday's speech in which he expanded on many of his initiatives, Cuomo said he wanted his "Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice to Help New York State 'Raise the Age'" to make its recommendations by Dec. 31, 2014.

Cuomo said the group should focus on a plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility that recognizes the need to protect public safety and reduce recidivism. For the "small percentage" of youths who engage in violence or other "harmful behavior," the governor said the commission's top priority of should be to protect communities.

Cuomo said that 40,000 16- and 17-year-olds were prosecuted as adults last year. Some 2,700 of those teens were sentenced to adult jails or prisons.

Cuomo's commission could face difficult issues in implementing the proposal, which some fear could lead to increased costs for probation and other local government functions.

Lippman and other court officials are concerned that Family Courts, already stressed by large case loads, would be overwhelmed if asked to handle additional cases of older teens. The chief judge has proposed creating a hybrid youth court, with the constitutional protections of adult courts but with the services available to juveniles in Family Court (NYLJ, March 2, 2012).

Other proposals introduced in recent years have called for raising the age without discussing the impact it would have on the courts.

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