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The Arrest of a 7-Year-Old for Rape Raises a Big Question

What's the right minimum age to charge a child as a juvenile delinquent?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 13, 2021 8:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – In New York state, children as young as 7 can be arrested and charged as juvenile delinquents in family court. But is that age too young? It's a question being asked in the state, one that was amplified by the March 23 arrest of a 7-year-old in Brasher Falls, NY, on a charge of third-degree rape, reports WWNY. Virtually no additional details of the case are known due to privacy regulations (the New York Post reports the incident allegedly happened on Thanksgiving), but the New York Times uses it as a springboard for examining whether said arrest should have happened at all. According to some judges, lawyers, and juvenile justice experts they spoke to, no—they say at his age, it would be better for social service agencies to step in, which does occur in hundreds of cases each year. In 2019, New York's family courts heard 121 cases involving children 12 and under.

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Dawne Mitchell, head of the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice, says that's because children of that age aren't cognitively capable of understanding the consequences that follow their actions, and that being put in handcuffs and taken to court exacts a psychological toll that can be traumatic and set them on a path toward recidivism. And a Queens attorney suggested to the Post that the case was as pointless as it is "absurd": "They'd have to prove he actually physically committed this act, which to me it almost seems to be an impossibility." New York's State Legislature may have a chance to weigh in by way of a bill that would up that age from 7 to 12; the Times notes that the UN in 2018 urged countries to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14. Connecticut also has a minimum age of 7; North Carolina has the lowest specified age in the country, at just 6. (Read more juvenile crime stories.)

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