New law gives some 17-year-old criminals another chance

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker is spending this week sorting through the cases of 123 17-year-olds with pending criminal cases in the county.

By Friday, he must decide which ones should stay in adult court, where they could go to jail and which ones should be transferred to juvenile court, where they will have another chance.

“We have homicides, we have armed robberies, we have car hijackings, we are at domestic violence,” Becker said Monday.

Under current state law, anyone 17 and over is considered an adult in the eyes of the court system, but that is increased to 18 and over on Friday under the new Raise the Age law. State.

Some of the files are being reviewed by Kent County District Attorney Chris Becker. (September 27, 2021)

This leaves prosecutors and courts across the state scrambling to decide what to do with 17-year-olds already in the system.

The new law comes at a time when juvenile crime is on the rise.

“We have had an increase in juvenile crime during COVID-19 (pandemic),” Becker said. “There have been a lot more young offenders, a lot more serious young offenders, and we’re seeing an escalation in behavior. “

On Monday, at the request of News 8, Becker read the file of one of the 17-year-olds already in the system.

“It’s about receiving and concealing stolen goods, resisting and opposing a policeman and driving recklessly – three or four low intensity crimes,” he said of the charges brought against the adolescent.

And this teenager already has a youthful past: burglary, concealment, theft of firearms.

“It’s probably the one I’m going to keep in juvenile court,” Becker said. “Give it another chance because, unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot worse.”

Becker said he expects around half of the 17-year-olds on his list to go to juvenile court.

“If you decide to keep them in juvenile court, they won’t get a permanent record, won’t be made public, which will hopefully give them another chance to correct their behavior,” he said. he declares.

The most dangerous, he said, or those with a long track record, he will push to keep in adult court. He could do so through automatic waivers or by asking a juvenile court judge to waive them in adult court, he said.

The law, he said, would make no difference in cases like the January 2019 murder of East Kentwood High School student James King in a marijuana deal. Four of the five suspects were 17 years old. Two are in prison, one of those for second degree murder.

The prosecutor said the juvenile court has already hired five new probation officers to handle the new workload.

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