North Carolina Gov. Cooper vetoes bill that would have required more juveniles to be tried as adults

North Carolina Gov. Cooper vetoes bill that would have required more juveniles to be tried as adults

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a bill Friday that would have mandated that more minors accused of serious crimes automatically be tried as an adult in court.

As it currently stands, some criminal cases involving youth defendants may remain in juvenile proceedings.

House Bill 834 passed the House and Senate with significant bipartisan support before the veto from Cooper, who sided with critics of the measure who warned the changes scale back the provisions of the 2019 “Raise the Age” law that ended a mandate that children of ages 16 and 17 be tried in the adult criminal justice system.

The opposition to automatically prosecuting children in adult court was considered a way to help more young people avoid public, lifetime criminal records for one-time mistakes, while also giving them access to youth-centered resources within the juvenile system, which does not make records public.


“I remain concerned that this new law would keep some children from getting treatment they need while making communities less safe,” Cooper wrote in his veto message.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a letter to the governor ahead of his veto that prosecuting children as adults “causes significant harm to young people and does nothing to address the underlying causes of youth crime.”

“The juvenile justice system requires far more accountability, counseling, education, and family involvement than the adult system and it works better,” the letter reads. “Recidivism is significantly higher when children go through the adult system rather than receive the services and punishment from the juvenile system.”

Republican Sen. Danny Britt, who spearheaded the bill, said lawmakers worked to change the law to reflect the reality that young people charged with serious felonies ultimately ended up in adult court and that the legal efforts to move them there from juvenile court were clogging up prosecutors’ juvenile caseloads.

“From a practical standpoint this process improves efficiency in our courts,” Britt told The Associated Press, adding that he supported the “Raise the Age” legislation and still believes it was the correct move.

The bill now returns to the General Assembly, where lawmakers will attempt to override the governor’s veto. Eighteen Democrats in the House and Senate combined voted with all Republicans except one in favor of the legislation.

Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly, and overrode all 19 of Cooper’s vetoes last year. A bill that the governor vetoed earlier this year has not yet had a vote to override the veto.

According to juvenile justice law, cases of children ages 16 and 17 accused of the most serious felonies must be moved to adult court after a notice of an indictment or when a hearing determines there is probable cause that a crime was committed. Prosecutors have discretion not to try in adult court children these ages accused of some lower-grade felonies.

H.B. 834 would have ended the transfer requirement for most of these high-level felonies, but instead placed the cases of these minors in adult court automatically.

North Carolina was the last state where minors of ages 16 and 17 were automatically prosecuted as adults when “Raise the Age” was enacted. Children these ages are still being tried in adult court for vehicle-related crimes.


“Most violent crimes, even when committed by teenagers, should be handled in adult court,” Cooper said. “However, there are cases where sentences would be more effective and appropriate to the severity of the crime for teenagers if they were handled in juvenile court, making communities safer. This bill makes this important option highly unlikely.”

The bill would also have established a new process in which a case could be moved from Superior Court to juvenile court if the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney agree to the transfer, and the adult records would be deleted.

Children ages 13 through 15 who are accused of first-degree murder will still be automatically transferred to adult court after an indictment or hearing that determines probable cause.

The legislation would also have raised penalties for adults who solicit a minor to commit a crime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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