Friend: It’s Time to Correct Raise the Age’s Protection Of Violent Youth Criminals

Assemblyman Christopher S. Friend (R,C-Big Flats) is proposing significant changes to the Raise the Age law to ensure highly-violent 16- to 17-year-old criminal offenders are tried in the appropriate Youth Part of Superior Court, as opposed to being downgraded and then tried in family court. The Raise the Age law, as currently written, threatens public safety, fails to provide justice to victims and puts adolescent offenders at more risk of being exploited by gangs.

“The Raise the Age law is failing public safety and failing the very youth it was intended to help. Reforms to the law are needed now to ensure the most violent of 16- to 17-year-old offenders are held accountable in the appropriate court, victims receive justice and to close the loophole causing even more rampant exploitation and recruitment of youth by gangs and drug dealers,” said Friend. “New York has lived long enough under this broken law; it’s time to fix it.”

In 2021, roughly only 9% of 16- and 17-year-old offenders arrested for a felony were charged with a felony as reported by the Division of Criminal Justice Services. These statistics include arrests for homicides, sex offenses, firearms and dangerous weapons offenses, robberies, burglaries, making terroristic threats and other felony arrests. In practice, 83% of 16- and 17-year-old adolescent offenders charged with felonies had their cases moved to family court or probation intake rather than be tried in the appropriate Youth Part of Superior Court.

Friend also noted local criminal justice officials and law enforcement have cited underfunding as a contributing factor making it difficult to provide proper resources to the program designed to ensure justice is being met and that the adolescent offenders are also receiving support. It’s made an already difficult task all the more challenging.

Friend and his colleagues are proposing that aggravating circumstances be considered when determining where a 16- and 17-year-old offender’s case may be tried. The existing “extraordinary circumstances” standard is causing extremely violent crimes to be inappropriately tried in family court. An Assembly Minority Conference remedial bill outlines the following as aggravated circumstances: crimes that caused serious physical injury or death of a victim; where a perpetrator displayed what appears to be a firearm, shotgun, rifle, or deadly weapon; where a defendant possesses a loaded firearm or instances where a defendant committed a sexual offense. The bill would remove non-violent felony cases from Youth Part to family court, unless, after a review of family court records, the court decides, in conjunction with a motion from the district attorney, to remove the case from family court and send it back to the Youth Part of Superior Court.

Under Raise the Age, an 18-year-old who commits a sexual offense, for example, would not have any criminal history while they were an adolescent held against them, and, as such, will be treated as a first-time offender even if they committed another sex crime when they were less than 18 years old. This bill would correct that discrepancy by allowing access to documents pertaining to arrests and juvenile delinquency proceedings to judges, prosecutors and defense counsel and would not seal cases unless proceedings favor an adolescent offender.