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New York legislative changes affect criminal defense for teens

Until very recently, New York was one of two remaining states in the nation that charged some teens accused of crimes as adults, and punished them thusly upon conviction. All that changed on the evening of Friday, April 7, 2017 in a move that will have some definite – and hopefully positive – effects on the criminal defense of 16 and 17-year-olds. Not only will the process change for future teens facing charges, but the legislation also deals with their relocation from jails and prisons -- where the youths are currently being held -- to a more suitable facility.

Under the new agreement, teens under the age of 17 who are currently incarcerated in adult facilities will be relocated by late 2018, and those under age 18 will be moved before the end of 2019. The youth inmates will be sent instead to detention facilities run by the Office of Children and Family Services that are specially intended to deal with convicted youth. Furthermore, teenage inmates currently held at state prisons will now be housed in special facilities for adolescent offenders.

The new law will also change the way future cases involving 16 and 17-year-defendants are processed. Non-violent felony charges and other misdemeanors will be handled in family court, except under circumstances the district attorney deems extraordinary. In these situations, the case would be seen in a newly established "Youth Part" of criminal court, which will be presided over by a family court judge. Felony charges would also be seen in this "Youth Part" of court, where defendants will have access to intervention programs and services.

One more section of the agreement also allows for any defendants convicted of certain non-violent offenses, regardless of their age, to apply to the courts 10 years after they have completed their sentences, asking to have their records sealed. A speaker for the New York Assembly pointed out that past offenders often have difficulty moving forward with their lives to become productive citizens because of their personal history of conviction and incarceration. He hopes that this portion of the reform will allow those convicted of non-violent crimes who have done their time to move toward a better future. Hopefully, this bill will benefit both past offenders trying to move on as well as any future New York teens who find themselves in need of criminal defense.

Source: raisetheageny.com, "NY Lawmakers Agree to "Raise the age" of Criminal Responsibility from 16 to 18", Patrick Lohmann, April 9, 2017

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