Alton, IL

Changing Legal Definition of Adulthood

Story by WBGZ Radio

Illinois lawmakers are proposing a measure that would consider 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds as juveniles if they’ve committed certain crimes.

State Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, has sponsored legislation that would allow judges to consider young adults as juveniles when they come before a court charged with a misdemeanor, or minor infraction of the law. Currently, anyone 18 and older is to be prosecuted as an adult. Some defendants younger than 18 can be charged as adults in certain circumstances.

This isn’t the first time Illinois lawmakers have tinkered with the legal definition of adulthood. In 2013, former Illinois' Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law allowing the state's juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds charged with felonies.

In a committee hearing Tuesday, Fine said this age group is unique, considering that studies have shown their brains aren’t fully developed until around age 26.

“The goal of this legislation is to make this age group learn from their mistakes to change their trajectory in life instead of paying for the mistakes for the rest of their life,” she said.

Matt Jones with the Illinois State’s Attorney's Appellate Prosecutor said this runs against all of the privileges that the state currently gives these young people.

“An 18-year-old can get married, a 19-year-old can have an abortion, a 20-year-old can buy a house or join the military,” he said. “All of these are life-altering decisions that we allow them to make.”

The bill now awaits a full House vote.

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