How ‘Raise the age’ led to MORE kids with guns
On an August evening in 2021, 24-year-old Deandre Johnson was shot as he stood on a South Bronx street. 17-year-old Tyree Malone was arrested and charged with Johnson’s murder.
Malone was no stranger to the criminal justice system or guns.
According to reporting in The Post, Malone had at least three prior gun possession arrests within the past year.
So why was this young and dangerous criminal still on the streets?
Because that’s the result the New York State Legislature wanted.
In 2017, with the enthusiastic support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Legislature passed the now infamous “raise the age” law that fundamentally changed the scope of criminal and juvenile justice in New York.
“At a time when President Trump and this federal government are taking us backwards, New York is moving forward with bold criminal justice reforms,” Cuomo proudly declared. By raising the age of criminal responsibility, New York is ending an injustice that disproportionately affects people of color and proving once again that we are a progressive beacon for the nation. In New York, we will never stop fighting for an equal and more just society for all.”
Unfortunately, not for Deandre Johnson.
Prior to the passage of the RTA, most juvenile delinquency cases were tried by state family courts as juvenile delinquency cases.
Juveniles ages 7-15 were tried before family court judges in “quasi-criminal” proceedings that, legally, did not constitute criminal “charges” but were considered “convictions” of the crime. .
During the rising crime wave of the 1970s, state law was amended to allow some serious crimes such as murder, rape, aggravated assault, and armed robbery to be dealt with in criminal courts for 14- and 15-year-olds. was
Those youths designated as “juvenile offenders” are considered criminally responsible and may be sentenced to incarceration in secure facilities designed specifically for juveniles.
Meanwhile, 16- and 17-year-old offenders were subject to the jurisdiction of the criminal courts for all crimes.
Child advocacy groups and progressive politicians have long lobbied to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and send all young people to family court.
These advocates argued that adolescent minds were not yet fully developed and, therefore, young offenders should not be held criminally responsible for most crimes.
They added that only one other state besides New York has treated 16- and 17-year-olds as criminal defendants.
The RTA law creates a new category of juvenile offender, as well as a new court division: 16- and 17-year-olds arrested for felony offenses are now brought before the “youth division” of criminal court as “juvenile offenders.” is
This appearance before the Special Juvenile Division is brief because the statute provides for the immediate removal of the case to Family Court for processing as a juvenile offender. Unless the prosecutor can show that the defendant (1) caused significant bodily injury, (2) displayed (but not merely possessed) a firearm or deadly weapon, (3) committed an illegal sexual act, or the court In “extraordinary circumstances,” cases — and juvenile offenders — are referred to family court.
But the new law provides no definition for “extraordinary circumstances” or “significant physical injury,” so prosecutors and judges have no way of knowing the standard for holding a young offender in criminal courts.
What is conspicuously absent from these terms is any consideration for community safety.
In the fatal shooting of Deandre Johnson, the 17-year-old defendant was charged with three prior gun possession charges within the past year.
Yet this fact was irrelevant to the drafters of the RTA Act. Currently, gun possession cases must be removed to family court, absent evidence that the youth offender displayed the weapon as part of a criminal act.
Removal to Family Court, however, does not mean that the youth offender will appear in any court. Most youths are not sent to court for arraignment, but instead appear before the NYC Probation Service in Family Court for “adjustment services.”
Adjustment diverts offenders away from the court system to community-based counseling and other social services.
In 2019-2021, approximately one-third of all probation intake cases were adjusted. Those cases were closed without any court proceedings or records.
Whether the offender completes an adjustment program, or is sent back to family court for trial, the youth’s records remain shrouded in secrecy forever.
The Family Court Act specifically prohibits the use of any appearance or proceeding at any time against the interests of the offender in any other court.
So whether a juvenile offender appears on a new felony arrest, before the same youth court judge a month, a year — even a week — after removal, consider information from family court in determining Can’t decide whether to stay under new arrest or not. Criminal system.
In fact, the state legislature has passed a law that ignores the safety of the community in favor of keeping judges ignorant of the criminal history of recidivist defendants.
The State Legislature’s commitment to concealing the history of violent juvenile offenders became even more evident when, as part of the RTA legislation, victims of juvenile offenders tried by the Family Court were now barred from knowing the disposition of their own cases. is
Simply put, the state legislature has mandated that you cannot find out what happened to the person who hacked you.
How does this square with Gov. Cuomo’s promise that the RTA law has made New York a “progressive beacon for the nation” in a “more just society for all?”
So, has RTA fulfilled any of its promises?
yes and no The law effectively removes 16- and 17-year-old offenders from Rikers Island and mandates that incarcerated offenders be housed in facilities designed for juveniles.
But these facilities will need to be expanded to accommodate the rising crime wave in view of the passage of the RTA.
According to NYPD data, teenagers under the age of 18 are responsible for 15%–20% of NYC burglaries, despite the fact that 15– to 17-year-olds make up only 5% of the city’s population.
But the real impact of RTA is with guns. According to an experienced family court lawyer, “I’ve never seen so many guns.
There are more gun cases than ever before. “
The NYPD says that since the passage of the RTA, gun crime has increased 200%.
And what is most disturbing is the rapid increase in crime among people who are initially charged with possession of a firearm.
According to NYPD data, for the first time at the Manhattan Institute, W. In 2017, 4.4% of youth arrested for gun possession were involved in a shooting within a year of the first arrest, reported Dyer Halpern.
In 2021, this rate more than tripled to 13.7%.
Felons under the age of 18 arrested for gun possession and involved in a shooting in the following two years increased from 6.7% to 23.4% between 2017 and 2020.
Police also revealed that juveniles committed 48 shootings across the city in 2019. In 2020 the number increased to 62 and last year, in 2022, the number reached 148.
The NYPD also reports that in the year after the passage of the RTA, 48% of 16-year-olds were rearrested.
This represents a 39% increase over the previous year.
Experts believe that young gang members hold on to guns, knowing they cannot be prosecuted. By “raising the age,” legislators lowered the age of the average hardened criminal.
Court results are also worrying.
For the majority of 16- and 17-year-old offenders arrested, their cases are transferred out of criminal courts and into family court. In 2021 (the latest year for which data is available) 1,520 juvenile offenders appeared in youth sections; 1,331 of the 1,520 (88%) were removed to family court for processing as juvenile delinquents.
Only 112 (7%) of the original 1,500+ offenders were convicted of felonies before the criminal courts.
How many of these transferred cases were armed or violent felonies?
We will never know. Thanks to extreme secrecy and the RTA, the public and crime victims cannot be told.
Can RTA be modified to achieve better results?
The Legislature needs to loosen its ideological grip and ensure that judges and prosecutors can make informed decisions about who should remain in the criminal justice system and who is best suited for the juvenile process.
Community safety needs to be a consistent factor when considering any transfer to the juvenile system.
In addition, information from Family Court and Probation needs to be made available to the Youth Division so that informed decisions can be made that serve the best needs of the public and youth.
Democrats from Gov. Hochul to President Biden claim that guns are the greatest threat to safety, yet the fact that gun possession results in almost no punishment for anyone under the age of 18 in New York. Indicates that they do not want to help solve the problem.
Last week, a violent crime spree in Chicago cost a sitting mayor his job.
His loss is a historic event. New York state legislators should remember that voters are watching.
Attorney Peter Reinharz was a lead attorney in the New York City family courts from 1987-2002. Andrew Stein, a Democrat, served as New York City Council President, 1986–94.