Panel proposes 17-year-old suspects only be charged as juveniles

2013-02-27T04:01:00Z Panel proposes 17-year-old suspects only be charged as juvenilesBy L.E. HLAVACH - H&R Springfield Bureau Writer Herald-Review.com

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois should stop automatically treating 17-year-olds charged with felonies as adults, a state juvenile justice advisory group recommended Tuesday.

The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a 24-member advisory group chaired by retired Chief Judge George Timberlake of Mount Vernon, issued its report after examining the impact of a 2010 change in state law.

Before 2010, anyone over age 16 charged with any type of crime was treated as an adult and went through the adult court system.

In 2010, the General Assembly reached a compromise: 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors would be handled in the juvenile justice courts, while 17-year-olds charged with felonies would still be prosecuted as adults.

Most states set 18 as the default age when criminal defendants will be treated as an adult. Illinois is one of only 12 states with a lower age, the commission reported.

The Illinois commission recommended that “in the interest of fairness and public safety,” all 17-year-olds charged with any type of crime should be handled in juvenile courts, except those transferred to adult court for specific, serious offenses.

“Instead of drawing a wise, safe or clear distinction between minor and serious offenses, the Illinois law splitting 17-year-olds between two court systems caused confusion, and jurisdictional questions still regularly arise when 17-year-olds are arrested,” the commission found.

Now that research demonstrates that the Illinois juvenile justice system “can manage the addition of 17-year-olds charged with felonies, it’s time to complete the reform,” Timberlake said.

The commission’s full report can be found at ijjc.illinois.gov/rta

laura.hlavach@lee.net|(217) 528-1079

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