HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) – Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wants to raise the age for juvenile offenders to 20, but the more controversial aspect of his plan would let “low-risk” young adults between the ages of 21 to 25 to have their cases heard confidentially.
Malloy presented his ideas earlier this month at a Connecticut Law Review symposium, hosted by the University of Connecticut School of Law.
The proposal expands on a law Connecticut passed in June, which treats adult drug possession as a misdemeanor and eliminates mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent drug possession. The proposal to increase the age of youthful offenders is an expansion of that law.
As part of his proposal for juveniles, the governor suggested allowing “low-risk” young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 to have their court cases heard confidentially.
“We may want to consider allowing those in this age group to have their cases heard confidentially, their records sealed, and the opportunity to have records expunged,” Malloy said on Nov. 6. “That would be in line with national best practices, which Attorney General Lynch and the U.S. Department of Justice are encouraging states to consider. This also, would make Connecticut a first-in-the-nation-state.”
Mitchell Pearlman, the former executive director of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission, said that would be a mistake.
The state already has erasure statutes, which allows a young person to petition the court to have their charges erased from the court’s database, Pearlman said.
Regardless of the state’s attempt to keep an arrest of a young person secret, “it’s not a secret in today’s world,” Pearlman said.
With social media, moreover, there’s still a chance people will know, even if the court proceeding is kept secret, he added.
“It’s not going to accomplish anything,” Pearlman said. “It’s not going to keep anything secret.”
Despite lauding the governor’s intentions, Pearlman insisted that “hitting delete in today’s world doesn’t delete anything.”
There were 1,195 felony cases and 4,044 misdemeanor cases involving adults under the age of 25, judiciary records show. Those numbers represent cases and not individuals, which could account for several of the cases, a spokesman for the Judicial Branch said.
During the same period of time, between July 2014 and June 2015, there were 38 felony cases and 282 misdemeanor cases involving defendants between the ages of 17 and 18. For those between the ages of 18 and 19, there were 996 felony cases and 2,434 misdemeanor cases.
The number of cases increased slightly for each age bracket in between the ages of 20 and 25.
There’s also questions what this proposal would mean for the Sixth Amendment and a defendant’s right to a public trial.
But William Carbone, executive director of Justice Programs at the Tow Youth Justice Institute at the University of New Haven, said there is a precedent for these types of proceedings.
Before Connecticut raised the age of youthful offenders in 2012 to the age of 18, there was something known as “youthful offender” status that allowed 17-year-olds to apply for a special status, Carbone said.
The special “youthful offender” status was generally granted to nonviolent, first-time offenders. These offenders were tried in a closed courtroom and had their records erased.
“It was a recognition that the brains of young people hadn’t fully matured,” Carbone said.
What we know about brain science now seems to support the governor’s attempt to offer these youth a second chance, Carbone added.
David McGuire, staff attorney for Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, was generally supportive of the idea of raising the age.
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 20 years old is consistent with the current scientific understanding of brain development,” McGuire said. “Alternative interventions will help steer vulnerable young people away from problematic behavior and prevent more serious crimes in the future.”
The changes Malloy proposed earlier this month will still need to be approved by the Connecticut Legislature, which doesn’t reconvene until February.
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