A new North Carolina state law gives police increased power in some instances to release photos of juvenile suspects accused of murder and other violent crimes.
The bipartisan law aims to help law enforcement locate juvenile suspects to arrest them, the same reason photos of adult suspects are made available to the public. The legislation was approved as the state grapples with a rise in crimes committed by teenagers.
House Bill 186, signed into law last week, allows a judge, or, in some cases, police to release a picture or mugshot of a teenage suspect in efforts to take them into custody, which was previously prohibited under state juvenile laws, according to local outlet WLOS.
In Dec. 2019, North Carolina was the last state to increase the age of a juvenile to 18, which allowed most offenders under 19 to be heard in juvenile court.
“When you have a murderer on the loose, or a rapist on the loose, or some heinous criminal, the victims of the first crime need to know that everything’s being done to catch them,” Eddie Caldwell, general counsel for the North Carolina’s Sheriff’s Association, told the outlet. “When these folks commit these heinous crimes they give up some of these protections we would provide to other juveniles.”
The law makes it easier for law enforcement to release a suspect’s picture through the media, said Vicki Jayne, a longtime capital defender for the state of North Carolina. It also would speed up the process of moving the case of teenager accused of committing a violent crime to adult court, which Jayne says will clog up the court system more than it already is.
North Carolina was the last state to increase the age of a juvenile to 18 in 2019, which allowed nonviolent offenders 18 years old and under to be heard in juvenile court.
Under the new law, a prosecutor could take a case before a grand jury and if the teenager was indicted with murder, the case would automatically be tried in adult court. Previously, the prosecutor would decide whether the accused would be tried as an adult.
Michael Hall, who runs the nonprofit Generation 2 Generation in Asheville, spent 14 years in prison for attempted murder and armed robbery. He opposes the law, saying that passing legislation to crack down on teenage crime fails to address the root causes of what led the juveniles to commit violent crimes.
“There is to some degree a need for certain crimes committed by youth to be dealt with in a particular way, possibly as adults,” Hall said. “However, what’s the greater need, arrest them or treat whatever has led them to commit such crimes.”
“We arrest them, convict them, but don’t treat,” he added. “With this demographic of youth, what gets focused on is what did they do, not what happened that led them to what they did.”
Hall said he ended up in prison following struggles he faced as a teenager after his mother died, which caused him to develop anger issues with no parent around.
“I needed to slow down, think, evaluate my life,” he said. “Everywhere I looked there was not an outlet for someone to say to me, slow down.”
The law will take effect on December 1.