Under the Dome

Bill would have teenagers tried in adult court for the most serious crimes

Children 13 and older would have to be tried in adult court for the most serious crimes, under a bill pending in the state House.

Currently, only teenagers accused of first-degree murder automatically must have their cases heard in superior court, where proceedings are confidential and the punishment is generally less severe.

Judges already can transfer the most serious felonies to adult court if they find there is probable cause that the juvenile committed the crime. This bill would require them to transfer the cases if the prosecutor requests it. [Note: An earlier version of this post didn't include the reference to the transfer being mandatory upon a motion by the prosecutor.]

The bill by Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican from Apex, and Rep. John Faircloth, a second-term Republican from High Point, would expand the offenses eligible for adult court to include felonies designed as Class B1 to Class D.

That covers such crimes as first-degree rape, on the high end, down to voluntary manslaughter, first-degree burglary and armed robbery. The bill originally included Class E felonies, which includes serious assaults, discharging a weapon into occupied property and shooting at a law enforcement officer; but the bill was revised before it appeared in its first committee, which has not yet been scheduled.

A legislative staff report shows that the cases of 19 juveniles who were at least 13 years old and were charged with the most serious felonies were transferred to adult court last year.

There has been an ongoing effort to go the other direction: keep more juveniles out of adult court to lessen the likelihood they'll be repeat offenders. North Carolina is one of only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Legislation is expected to be filed again this session raising the age from 16 to 18 for misdemeanors only, while ensuring 16- and 17-year-olds accused of felonies remain in adult court.

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