Six- and 7-year-olds accused of committing felonies in North Carolina will no longer be prosecuted in criminal court under a juvenile justice bill Gov. Roy Cooper signed on Aug. 30.
When the Democratic governor signed House Bill 261, it meant North Carolina would no longer be the only state that sets the minimum age so low to be tried in adult court. However, a majority of states have no minimum age set by law, according to The Associated Press.
Going into the legislative session, Cooper, backed by a task force he established, favored a minimum age of 10. But some lawmakers said 8- or 9-year-olds accused of the most violent or serious felonies should not get off with only counseling. So the final version of the bill set the minimum age for crimes such as assault, forcible rape and arson at 8.
Backers say young children can’t understand the juvenile justice process and its consequences, nor make informed decisions about talking with police, admitting to the accusations against them and going to trial.
The “raise the floor” issue rose to new prominence when the Raleigh News & Observer reported on a case in which a 6-year-old North Carolina boy who picked a tulip at a bus stop was hauled into court. In another case, a 9-year-old with autism who threw a pencil at a teacher, the newspaper said.
As the current legislative session speeds toward its conclusion on Sept. 30, lawmakers passed other measures affecting children, youth and families, that Cooper later signed into law: a bill creating a foster parents bill of rights (which affords them no new legal recourse if they feel those rights have been violated); and a bill that changes various abuse, neglect and dependency laws to ensure the safety of kids in out-of-home placements and streamline permanency planning hearings.