Illinois law reform raises cutoff for felony prosecution

Historically, 17-year-old teens in Illinois who were charged with crimes were locked up in adult jails while awaiting prosecution. While still not old enough legally to smoke or drink, these teens were forced to miss weeks of high school because they were locked up or attending their own criminal trials, usually because of non-violent crimes such as stealing and drug trafficking.

However, the face of criminal defense in Illinois has now changed, thanks to the Illinois law reform effective this year that lifted the age for felony prosecution to 18 years old instead of 17. As a result, 17-year-olds who have been arrested for criminal charges since Jan. 1 of this year will be treated as juvenile offenders and transferred to juvenile courts and lockups.

For most of these children, this is a chance for them to put their youthful mistakes behind them and emerge into the adult world with a clean slate. However, the new law also explicitly states that only 17-year-olds who have been charged from Jan. 1, 2014, onwards will be sent to juvenile courts. That means that minors charged in the previous years will stay in adult lockups and be treated as adults in a criminal trial.

One of the long-term consequences of this exception is a stigma that these teens have to endure because of their criminal convictions. The opportunities for these children’s futures are severely reduced because of a felony charge that they committed while they were still minors.

A single felony charge should not serve as the measuring stick of an individual’s capacity. A solid criminal defense is imperative for people charged with criminal offenses, juvenile or otherwise, so that they may minimize the negative effects of these allegations on their lives.

Source: HuffPost Chicago, “Illinois Takes Huge Step in Juvenile Justice Reform,” Angela Caputo, Jan. 9, 2014