Governor Roy Cooper vetoes juvenile delinquency bill because it “undermines” North Carolina reforms.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required more juveniles facing criminal charges to be tried as adults.

House Bill 834 would require 16- and 17-year-olds who commit certain crimes to first be tried as adults in the state's superior courts.

Currently, these youths are tried in the state's juvenile court upon filing a petition. They are transferred to the state's superior courts if there is reasonable suspicion or charges are filed. The bill provides a mechanism to send these cases back to juvenile court, as The News & Observer previously reported.

In his statement Friday night, the Democratic governor wrote that “most violent crimes, even when committed by teenagers, should be tried in adult court. However, there are cases where punishments for teenagers would be more effective and more proportionate to the severity of the crime if tried in juvenile court, making communities safer. This bill makes that important option highly unlikely and begins to undermine our bipartisan law raising the minimum age that we agreed to four years ago.”

“While a number of Senators have worked to make this legislation better than the original bill, I remain concerned that this new law will deter some children from the treatment they need and make communities less safe. Instead, lawmakers should invest significantly more in our juvenile justice system to ensure resources are available to prevent crimes and appropriately deal with children who break the law,” he wrote.

Cooper's veto is unlikely to stand. The General Assembly has a two-thirds Republican majority and can therefore override Cooper's veto if three-fifths of the members of both houses vote in favor together.

In the House of Representatives, all Republican representatives except Representative John Faircloth of Guilford County voted for the latest version of the bill. All but seven Democrats opposed the bill.

Among those voting in the Senate, all Republicans and all but four Democrats supported the bill. Democratic Senators Mary Wills Bode, Lisa Grafstein, Natalie Murdock and Gladys Robinson opposed the bill.

Raise the Age and Youth Court

Raise the Age was passed into law in 2017 and took effect in 2019. It transferred 16- and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors and minor crimes in North Carolina from the adult criminal system to the juvenile criminal system.

Several Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill, which would roll back child protections, during debates in committees and in the House of Representatives before the vote.

Supporters said the bill is a procedural change that will allow the juvenile justice system to function more smoothly. One of the bill's main sponsors, Republican Senator Danny Britt of Robeson County, said during a Senate vote in mid-May that the bill “is trying to deal with these violent juvenile offenders, these individuals who are mostly tried in a higher court, but through a lengthy, very complicated transfer process. What we're not doing is rolling back Raise the Age.”

With Raise the Age, “our goal was to rehabilitate many of the young people who committed crimes,” said Rep. Amos Quick, a Democrat from Greensboro, during a debate in the House.

“I don't think anyone here is in favor of crime. I'm certainly not in favor of crime, but I'm in favor of youth. Youth who commit crimes need rehabilitation, not punishment by law,” he said. This legislation is “the wrong step,” he said.

The ACLU of North Carolina sent Cooper a letter urging him to oppose the bill.

“The criminal prosecution of children as well as adults causes significant harm to young people and does nothing to address the underlying causes of youth crime,” the letter said.

“The juvenile justice system requires far more accountability, counseling, education and family involvement than the adult justice system, and it works better,” it says. “The recidivism rate is significantly higher when children go through the adult justice system rather than receiving the services and punishments of the juvenile justice system.”

Under the dome

Get the latest North Carolina politics news from the award-winning team at The News & Observer. Get the free summary delivered to your inbox by signing up here.