Juvenile court usage discussed

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony March 6 on a bill requiring that all charges against juveniles younger than 18 years old be filed in juvenile court.

Under LB464, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, cases could be transferred to adult court upon a motion by the prosecutor and a hearing before the juvenile court if the alleged law violation is a felony or if the alleged law violation is a misdemeanor and the juvenile was 16 or 17 years old at the time the act was committed.

Ashford said it is important to consider the circumstances that lead juveniles to commit crime and to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment for their age. Adult court does not take such factors into consideration, he said, but juvenile courts have programs that offer a chance for rehabilitation and reduced recidivism.

“The rate of incarceration for juveniles is far greater than what should be a reasonable standard in Nebraska,” he said.

Sarah Forrest, policy coordinator for Voices for Children in Nebraska, testified in support of the bill, saying that adult courts are unable to meet the needs of vulnerable youth. Juvenile courts were created with an acknowledgment that there are significant differences between children’s and adults’ needs, she said, and can better provide treatment for Nebraska youth.

Sarpy County public defender Dennis Marks also testified in support of the bill, saying the current process for juvenile cases is to file them automatically in adult court. Forty-five percent of juvenile cases are prosecuted in adult courts, he said, and 90 percent of those cases typically are for misdemeanor offenses.

No one testified in opposition and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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