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January 24, 2013

Hill bill would protect 17-year-olds as juveniles

A Cape Ann lawmaker leading a push to have Massachusetts join 39 other states in classifying 17-year-olds as juveniles, rather than adults, when faced with what he called “moinor” criminal charges and in dealing with the state’s court system.

Rep. Bradford Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose district includes the town of Manchester, said he filed his bill to reclassify 17-year-old delinquents as juveniles in part because of safety concerns about their treatment if and when they are sentenced to serve detention time with much older adults.

Hill, who also serves as the Minority whip of the House of Representatives, said he has several concerns about the teenage group being charged as adults.

In a My View opinion piece published in Monday’s Times, Hill also noted that, under current and adult guidelines, a 17-year-old might agree to a guilty plea without consulting a parent. He also noted that the bill would protect a 17-year-old from being saddled with having a criminal record at such a young age, and from having his or her name reported as part of the public record as is the case today.

Hill said he wrote the legislation so that it would would only apply to “minor” cases, leaving authorities the option to still file adult charges against juveniles — as is the case now regarding felony crimes of violence.

Carrie Kimball Monahan, speaking for the Essex County District Attorney’s office, said Wednesday that DA Jonathan Blodgett had not yet fully reviewed or commented on Hill’s pending legislation, but she noted that not every case involving a 17-year-old now is always handled as if the perpetrator were an adult. Currently, a juvenile is classified as anyone under 17, she said, but anyone between the ages of 17 and 21 can be classified as a “youthful offender.

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