Texas Lawmakers at Odds Over Raising Age of Criminal Responsibility

A Texas House committee has approved a bill that would raise the state's age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18.

Supporters of House Bill 122 include Houston Democrat Gene Wu who argues 17-year-olds are deemed juveniles by the rest of society, so why not the state's court system?

“When can you vote?  When can you join the military?  When can you buy tobacco?  When can you sit on a jury?  When can you sign your own contracts?  All of these things happen later,” says state Rep. Gene Wu.

But Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, says raising the age will simply cost too much.

“In Harris County, you would have to spend an estimated $50 million,” says Whitmire.  “You would have to create additional juvenile courts, residential facilities to confine the 17-year-olds, juvenile probation workers.”

Whitmire says a similar bill in his committee will likely never see a vote.

“Keep in mind we have 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds in the juvenile system,” he says.  “So you're going to take a 17-year-old who is an aggravated armed robber and put him in the juvenile system?  I don't think so.”

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, argues existing laws are already in place to ensure the state's most violent juvenile offenders are tried as adults.

'The problem with that logic is that 95 percent of the juveniles charged at 17 are charged with misdemeanor offenses, only about five percent of them would be considered anywhere near what Sen. Whitmire is talking about,” says Dutton.

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