17-Year-Olds Won’t Automatically Be Tried as an Adult in Michigan Under New Law

October 31, 2019 Updated: October 31, 2019

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law on Thursday that raises the age for teenagers that would automatically be tried as an adult when prosecuted for alleged crimes.

Michigan was one of four states to automatically treat all 17-year-olds charged with crimes as an adult no matter what offense they committed. The new bills mandate 17-year-olds be considered a juvenile for purposes of adjudication or prosecution of criminal offenses.

Whitmer signed the bill package, known as “Raise the Age, saying in a statement: “I’m proud that we’re ending the unjust practice of charging & punishing our children as adults.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy championed the move.

“On behalf of all Michigan kids and families, we extend our thanks and appreciation to Gov. Whitmer for taking this important action today to ‘raise the age’ and rightfully treat 17-year-olds as the kids that they are in our justice system,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the group, in a statement.

“This is what a good compromise looks like, both in the substance of the policy and in the widespread and diverse support. With a stroke of her pen today, the governor is taking better care of our youth and families and giving them a brighter future, benefiting our communities and economy in the process.”

State Sen. Peter Lucido, a Republican who sponsored three of the bills in the package, said in a statement: “This is a proud moment for me and all who have worked so hard over the years to get the Raise the Age plan passed, and it is especially great news for our state’s youth.”

A photo of Handcuffs.
Handcuffs in a file photograph. (Bill Oxford/Unsplash)

“Finally, Michigan’s criminal justice system will treat 17-year-olds like the adolescents they are, which will provide them the opportunity to learn from their youthful mistakes and a better chance at becoming productive members of society as adults,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said “raising the age” in Michigan will lower the number of teens being charged as adults from 76,000 to 40,000, according to the Associated Press.

“We can reduce their contact with the system,” Gilchrist said during the bill signing, according to the Detroit News. “We can ensure that more young people go down real paths to careers that make sense for them and allow them to live out their best potential … We can change the trajectory for life for thousands of people here in the state of Michigan.”

On the other hand, an increase of 7,564 juvenile cases is expected to occur in Michigan, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

A 2014 report from the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency found 17-years-old in adult jails faced assault and increased the chance they would commit more crimes after getting released.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber