The final phase of New York’s “Raise the Age” law goes into effect this year, finally making way for both 16- and 17-year-olds to be referred to Family Court instead of being prosecuted for alleged crimes as adults.

Nearly 28,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested in New York each year, and previously faced the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court, even though the vast majority were for minor crimes (72 percent misdemeanors), according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The “Raise the Age” law was signed by Governor Cuomo on April 10, 2017 and is gradually being phased in until October, 2019. On October 1, 2018, the new law began applying to 16-year-olds and, on October 1 of this year, 17-year-olds also will gain the benefit of referral to Family Court. Until now, New York and North Carolina, which also has implemented an age-raising bill, were the only remaining states in the country that still considered 16-year-olds adults in the eyes of the court.

The “Raise the Age” law essentially states that 16- and 17-year-olds changed with nonviolent crimes will no longer be processed as criminal defendants. They can still be arrested, of course, but the legal cases will most likely be referred to Family Court and handled as juvenile delinquent cases. This means there will not be criminal records following these young persons for the rest of their lives, nor can they be housed in secure facilities where adults are incarcerated, and can’t be held in the county jails.

There also is a provision that allows for persons found to be juvenile delinquents under the new law to have their records sealed, which went into effect October 6, 2017. A new bill by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas of Queens is expected to be introduced in the 2019 Legislative Session that would broaden this existing sealing provision to allow past youthful offenders to apply to have their records sealed if they are eligible.

Family Court

By placing these cases into the Family Court, youths have access to the broader sanctions and dispositions available through that court, which are often community-based and more support-centered. There are exceptions to placing all minors in Family Court, of course. The new law not does not apply to any ‘A’ level felony crime, and the local district attorney can make a motion based on extraordinary circumstances, within 30 days of a person’s arrest, to have the case proceed in criminal court.

This new law was submitted and signed as part of the State Budget. There are reasons for that, as it is anticipated that the cost savings to New York State from not incarcerating as many 16- and 17-year-olds will save the State a vast amount of money. But is it enough to justify the increases to the judicial process in Family Court that will follow? This remains to be seen.

There are many details that still need finalizing by the State Judiciary and related agencies, as the new processes and procedures come into effect. The attorneys at Tully Rinckey, PLLC represent persons in all types of Family Court cases, as well as juvenile criminal matters and much more, but you can be sure that our firm is prepared to represent families and minors presented with the new challenges resulting from “Raise the Age.”