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Broad agreement on ‘raise the age’ — but one small issue remains

ALBANY — An agreement to divert the vast majority of 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes away from adult criminal courts to give them another chance in life was derailed hours later Wednesday after the bill was printed.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the issue over which agency — an adult prison unit or a family services unit — will handle post-release supervision has forced more negotiations.

Hours earlier, lawmakers said the issue had been all but wrapped up as one of the sticking points in the state’s $163 billion state budget.

Under a tentative agreement, the state would seal the youths’ criminal records to avoid jeopardizing their futures in college or employment, said state Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that helped land the compromise.

“We shouldn’t be treating our young people as criminals and destroying their lives,” Klein (D-Bronx) said in an interview Wednesday. “We should be rehabilitating them.”

“You still have the accountability,” said state Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Depew). “We needed to separate the truly bad person from the young-and-foolish. This does that.”

The long-proposed measure to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age has been opposed by the Senate’s Republican majority because it feared the bill could endanger the public by being soft on dangerous criminals.

Klein and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said the framework of the agreement, pending further review of “minor” issues, includes:

  • Creating a “Youth Part” of the criminal court, presided over by a Family Court judge trained in adolescent behavior and juvenile justice.
  • Misdemeanor cases will start in Family Court. Nonviolent felonies will start in youth court. Unless a district attorney moves to keep the case in youth court within 30 days, it will go to Family Court. A district attorney can keep the case only if he or she establishes “extraordinary circumstances.”
  • Violent felonies and Class A felonies will begin in youth court. A district attorney can keep the case in youth court only with a “preponderance of evidence” such as involvement with a gun or other lethal weapon, a sex crime, or significant physical injury.
  • Murder and rape cases will begin in youth court.
  • Juveniles whose cases are handled in youth court would be sentenced like adults, although the court will consider the age of the defendant.
  • With Yancey Roy

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