By Lynn Bonner
North Carolina law allows children as young as six years old with criminal complaints against them to go before judges in juvenile court and face the possibility of being labeled delinquents.
Legislators say six is too young for a child to face juvenile court proceedings. Bills with bipartisan support moving through the legislature would raise the minimum age to 10.
Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat, is a sponsor of House bill 261 that raises the age.
Children younger than 10 are too young to understand court proceedings and assist in their own defense, said Morey, a former District Court judge. “They’re too young to be labeled delinquents before they have 10 candles on their birthday cake,” she said Wednesday at a House committee hearing on the bill.
Most of the complaints for children younger than 10 come from schools, according to Juvenile Justice system data cited in The News & Observer.
The House bill also sets out required assessments by juvenile court counselors and required meeting attendance for parents or guardians.
NC Child, an advocacy group, and the NC Conference of District Attorneys are among the bill’s supporters.
The Senate passed Senate bill 207, which contains similar provisions for raising the age, with a unanimous vote last week.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Mt. Airy Republican, said she’d support the bill, but wants to see a court retain jurisdiction over parents whose children commit crimes.
“I’ll support it,” Stevens said. “A lot more work needs to be done on it.”