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North Carolina is one of just two states where 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults, but opponents of the practice hope new momentum could finally change that.

Legislation filed Wednesday in the state House would shift the cases for those teens accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to the juvenile court system, and would make other juvenile justice changes.

Supporters of the measure say it ultimately would save money through lower recidivism rates and less demand for prison space, though it would initially cost substantial state funds over the next several years.

The change would prevent thousands of young people annually being branded for life with adult convictions for misdeeds that stem from youthful immaturity, according to bill supporters.

"Aside from it being the right thing to do, it's fiscally the right thing to do," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, one of the bill's chief sponsors. "Over a long period of time, this bill will save us money."

The other state that automatically prosecutes teens as adults is New York. A similar effort to ease that requirement is underway there.

Several "raise the age" proposals have been filed in North Carolina in previous years, including one that passed the House in 2014, but didn't become law. Previously lawmakers who worried about being labeled "soft on crime" have stayed clear of the proposal, and law enforcement has been suspicious of it.

The latest measure appears to have better chances for passage. The idea has bipartisan support in the House and Senate and in a coalition of groups ranging from sheriff and police chief associations and local governments to an arm of the North Carolina Chamber. Meanwhile, a courts and justice commission created by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin has examined the issue closely and recommended the change.


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