Local parent reacts to passing of ‘Raise the Age’

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Nora Massey started pushing to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York after her 16-year-old son committed a violent crime in 2005.

Terrol Massey was convicted of second degree murder, conspiracy, and a weapons charge in Amherst back in 2005.

He’s now 28, serving 20 years to life in an upstate correctional facility.

Nora feels if her son would have been treated as a youthful offender, his future would be different.

‘Raise the Age’ was approved as part of the 2017-2018 budget Sunday by the New York State Senate. The measure will raise the the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 by October of 2019.

“Going forward I’m glad that this happened because we have young people coming up in the criminal justice system today and they can get a fair trial,” Massey told News 4.

She said the measure passing is only part of the solution.

“I think it will make a big change if programs are put into place. To fight for something of this nature and not have a system in place to reflect what the fight is about then that’s defeating the purpose,” she said.

‘Raise the Age’ creates a new funnel for 16 and 17-year-olds to enter the criminal justice system. A new ‘Youth Part’ of Criminal Court will be created, where juvenile offenders will stand before Family Court judges.

The goal of the new law is to use Family Court as a means of avoiding hard time for juveniles. Extreme cases can remain in the ‘Youth Part’ of the Criminal Court, but age is to be considered during the sentencing process.

Terrol Massey does not have a current appeal date.

News 4 spoke to Massey in March before the budget was approved: 

Terrol Massey was convicted of second degree murder, conspiracy, and a weapons charge in Amherst back in 2005.

“My son was age 16 when he first got convicted of a heinous crime,” Massey told News 4.

She firmly believes her son should not have been treated as an adult. She said he was questioned by police without a parent or a lawyer present.

She’s now an advocate for Governor Cuomo’s “Raise The Age” initiative. It would mandate 16 and 17-year-old offenders be prosecuted differently than adult criminals.

Assembly Democrats passed the measure in February. Included in the package is a proposal to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 by 2018.

Currently, offenders all enter the criminal court system the same way; “Raise the Age” is pushing for juvenile offenders to enter that system through family court instead of adult criminal court.

Erie County’s District Attorney John Flynn agrees with parts of the initiative.

Research shows the brain isn’t fully developed until we’re in our 20s.

“When your brain is not fully developed, you have no impulse control,” he said.

“And when you have no impulse control, you are susceptible to pulling a gun out and shooting someone and not thinking about the consequences. So in those cases, who do you do?”

The answer, he said, isn’t totally clear cut.

As a DA, Flynn told us looks at cases on an individual basis. A blanket law automatically filtering 16 and 17-year-olds into family court would take away his ability to do that, he said.

Flynn supports housing juvenile offenders separately, but he told News 4 when it comes to prosecuting them, assuming all teenagers are fit for family court is a mistake.

He also believes it could put public safety at risk.

In Erie County, he noted teenagers are suspected of a number of recent gang-related shootings.

“These are young kids with guns,” Flynn told News 4.

Massey points to the fact that New York and North Carolina are the only two states which don’t automatically separate juveniles in the courts.

“That should be a red flag right there. Why do they make youth detention centers if you’re going to put youth in adult prisons?”

Flynn agreed the optics don’t look great, but noted most criminal cases involving juveniles are thrown out or sealed anyway. If this measure passes, he said it would only impact a small number of juvenile offenders.

Massey has been to Albany to rally for the measure, and said she’ll continue to speak out on behalf of her son and other juvenile offenders.

 

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