Maher Calling for Reforms to Raise the Age to Close Loophole Gangs Use to Exploit Youth

Assemblyman Brian Maher (R,C-Walden) and his Minority colleagues unveiled a proposal to reform the Raise the Age law and to help close the loophole gangs and drug dealers currently take advantage of that incentivizes crime organizations to recruit 16- and 17-year-olds to carry out felony crimes related to their operations. Raise the Age stipulates that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit felonies are to be tried in the Youth Part of Superior Court, however, in practice, only 17% were tried in the appropriate court and most were instead tried in family court or dealt with in probation intake. Serious crimes committed by these youth, including homicides, sexual offenses, crimes committed with firearms and dangerous weapons and others, are not met with reasonable consequences, making these teens all the more attractive for gang recruitment. Only 9% of those youths in 2021 were convicted for their serious crimes.

“I certainly do not want to see mistakes made by kids follow them for their whole lives, however, Raise the Age is actually failing already at-risk teens by not ensuring serious and dangerous crime be appropriately tried in the appropriate court,” said Maher, a member of the Assembly Committee on Children and Families. “Because there is little risk for real and lasting consequences, gangs and drug dealers are heavily recruiting teens to commit violent, awful crimes on their behalf. Our proposal closes this loophole while still offering a lifeline for teens who commit non-violent felonies.”

The bill would create a new standard within Raise the Age, replacing the “extraordinary circumstance” standard with “aggravating” circumstances to ensure violent felonies are appropriately tried in the Youth Park of Superior Court. Aggravating circumstances would include crimes causing serious physical injury or death, crimes committed while displaying items that appear to be weapons or while in possession of a weapon, or that are sexual offenses. The bill also ensures that non-violent felonies are tried in family court, unless a court decides with a motion from the prosecutor with respect to family court history. Overall, Raise the Age, as it stands now, is not deterring teens from violent crime and it is placing the public at risk. Further, it leaves victims with unfair judicial outcomes that deny justice.

Maher notes that this bill is not intended to punish the child that has made a mistake but rather discourages the exploitation of wayward teens by gangs and drug dealers who entice them deeper into a life of violent crime.

Editor’s Note:Assemblyman Maher’s comments on reforming Raise the Age law: