Legal Aid Chief Attorney Supports Governor's Call To Raise Age Of Criminal Responsibility
THURSDAY, JANUARY 09, 2014

Governor Andrew Cuomo's endorsement of raising the age of criminal responsibility and his creation of a commission to accomplish this change was praised by Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society.  "This is an important step forward for New York to have the governor endorse raising the age of criminal responsibility and the commission that he has proposed has a very specific charge and a very specific deadline for achieving that," Banks told the New York Law Journal.

"The governor gave the commission a specific charge—namely how to raise the age of criminal responsibility, not whether to raise the age," Banks said. "When the U.S. Supreme Court has said the adolescent brain is not developed at age 16 to the point where it recognizes criminal responsibility, New York should not continue to be on the other side of this important issue."  Three rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court since 2005, including Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.— (2012), have suggested that the brains of teenagers do not develop sufficiently by age 16 or 17 to adequately comprehend responsibility for criminal behavior.

New York and North Carolina are the only states that prosecute 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in Criminal Court.

In December, Banks had testified before the New York State Legislature in support of raising the age of criminal responsibility. A copy of The Legal Aid Society's testimony is attached below.




New York Law Journal
Governor Endorses Raising Age of Criminal Responsibility
By Joel Stashenko
January 9, 2014

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday backed an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16, a change also championed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The governor said in his State of the State address that New York and North Carolina are the only states that allow teens as young as 16 to be prosecuted in adult criminal courts.

"Our juvenile justice laws are outdated," Cuomo declared.

He added to the applause by those gathered at a state convention center near the state Capitol, by saying, "It's not right. It's not fair. We must raise the age. Let's form a commission on youth public safety and justice and let's get it done this year."

In a book released by the governor's office after Wednesday's speech in which he expanded on many of his initiatives, Cuomo said he wanted his "Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice to Help New York State 'Raise the Age'" to make its recommendations by Dec. 31, 2014.

Cuomo said the group should focus on a plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility that recognizes the need to protect public safety and reduce recidivism. For the "small percentage" of youths who engage in violence or other "harmful behavior," the governor said the commission's top priority of should be to protect communities.

Cuomo said that 40,000 16- and 17-year-olds were prosecuted as adults last year. Some 2,700 of those teens were sentenced to adult jails or prisons.

Cuomo's commission could face difficult issues in implementing the proposal, which some fear could lead to increased costs for probation and other local government functions.

Lippman and other court officials are concerned that Family Courts, already stressed by large case loads, would be overwhelmed if asked to handle additional cases of older teens. The chief judge has proposed creating a hybrid youth court, with the constitutional protections of adult courts but with the services available to juveniles in Family Court (NYLJ, March 2, 2012).

Other proposals introduced in recent years have called for raising the age without discussing the impact it would have on the courts.

Lippman's revised proposal (A3668/S1409) failed to gain traction last year, but the chief judge said Wednesday he was heartened by Cuomo's endorsement of a higher age of criminal responsibility.

"Judge Prudenti and I are very, very pleased the governor is appointing a commission to raise the age," Lippman said in a statement following Cuomo's speech. "We have submitted legislation to do this. We strongly applaud the governor's action and very much support this undertaking."

Both Lippman and A. Gail Prudenti, the state's chief administrative judge, attended Cuomo's address.

Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society of New York City, said Cuomo's call should further drive a proposal that seems to be gaining speed.

"The governor gave the commission a specific charge—namely how to raise the age of criminal responsibility, not whether to raise the age," Banks said in an interview. "When the U.S. Supreme Court has said the adolescent brain is not developed at age 16 to the point where it recognizes criminal responsibility, New York should not continue to be on the other side of this important issue."

Three rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court since 2005, including Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S.— (2012), have suggested that the brains of teenagers do not develop sufficiently by age 16 or 17 to adequately comprehend responsibility for criminal behavior.

"This is an important step forward for New York to have the governor endorse raising the age of criminal responsibility and the commission that he has proposed has a very specific charge and a very specific deadline for achieving that," Banks said.

The District Attorneys Association has not taken an official position on raising the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles, though its president, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said in August 2013 that she favors changing how 16- and 17-year-old offenders are treated.

"What we are doing now, they stand a disproportionate chance of being assaulted and an elevated risk of recidivism instead of rehabilitation," Rice said at a news conference in Mineola sponsored by Raise the Age advocates. Thirty-seven other states set 18 as the age of criminal responsibility. Eleven have 17 as the minimum age.