17-year-olds Now Considered Minors in Michigan Criminal Justice System

In April 2019, the Michigan Senate overwhelmingly approved a package of bills aimed to classify 17-year-olds as minors in the state’s criminal justice system.

This bi-partisan move arrives from the fact that Michigan is one of the few remaining states where 17-year-olds are automatically tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults whether they’re charged or convicted of a crime. But why is this so important? Especially now?

Why 17-year-olds should be considered minors

If you’re 17 years old and arrested for a crime, where you go depends mostly on what state you happen to live in. While many states classify 17-year-olds as children, Michigan is one of the few that automatically indicts 17-year-olds as adults when charged or convicted of a crime.

juvenile age of jurisdiction and transfer to adult court laws

Source: National Conference on State Legislatures

Most “raise the age” advocates cite the underdevelopment of the adolescent brain as a main reason for the reclassification of 17-year-olds as juveniles. The science behind this is obvious, when you look at brain scans comparing the adult brain versus the adolescent brain.

brain scan of adults versus children

Source: The University of California - Berkeley

As you can see above, parts of the adult brain “light up” when a control network is activated. However, children’s brains remain relatively dim: a sign that their control network isn’t fully activated yet. This is because the development of the prefrontal cortex is still happening within a 17-year-old’s brain.

The prefrontal cortex is considered “the house” for many of our difficult decisions. Additionally, this part of the brain is involved with impulse control. Experts say that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the individual is 25 years of age. When considering this, it’s easy to conclude that 17-year-olds still fall under the “adolescent” category.

In New York, nearly 28,000 16 and 17-year olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year. Similarly, this comprises the vast majority for minor crimes across the United States.

Life in adult prison as a teen

One of the main reasons to raise the age is the serious dangers adult prisons pose to youth. Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon, than children placed in youth facilities. Sadly, youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault of all inmate populations.

Additionally, approximately 80% of youth released from adult prisons often go on to commit more serious crimes. “Raise the age” advocates often cite these facts are more than enough reason to raise the age classification to 18-years-old. While this falls under each state’s discretion, the hope is that more states will follow suit after Michigan’s new bipartisan package of bills.

Teen DUI driving

OWI convictions for minors are not sealed or hidden from a public record. Whether the conviction is for OWI – Zero Tolerance (underage and a BAC over .02-.08) or OWI (BAC over .08), teens must be careful about how this offense will affect them later in life. A second conviction within 7 years will result in a 1 year revocation of a driver’s license. Therefore, even though adult classification may be raised for other offenses, those charged with an OWI as a minor (under 21) must still take their case very seriously

Additionally, the possible penalties will increase if the driver is transporting a passenger under the age of 16. Under this situation, the penalties for the first offense involve standard OWI second offense penalties, whereas a second offense’s consequences will exceed what is listed in the table displayed in the link.

How to hire an attorney for teen DUI charges

With recent legislation, Michigan is more equipped and open to raising the adult-classification age to 18. However, these laws have yet to go into effect. Therefore, it’s vital to hire an experienced attorney who won’t judge your parenting skills and will fight for your children’s right to life.

Categories: