Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Governor Tony Evers wants Wisconsin’s criminal justice system to consider 17-year-olds as kids. Laying out his budget proposal, Evers called on state lawmakers to change current laws, which require 17-year-olds to be charged as adults. First News at Nine’s Max Cotton explains what this proposed change would mean.
Wisconsin is one of just two states where 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system. This means, though they’re otherwise considered minors, they cannot be tried in juvenile court regardless of circumstances.
Eau Claire Defense Attorney Harry Hertel says the current law doesn’t make sense.
“Back when it was being proposed I was opposed to it because I felt that there were indeed issues for juveniles that should not be treated as adults,” said Hertel.
For example, Hertel said, “If you had two 17-year-olds having sexual intercourse, they are both breaking the law as perpetrators and they are both victims of a crime by an adult defendant theoretically.”
The issue isn’t just about legal quirks. Eau Claire Academy Director Michael Brunner is a licensed psychologist. He says teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed yet.
Brunner said, “The brain develops from a backward-to-forward progression with the last part of the brain developing being the frontal lobe. Frontal lobes are responsible for such things as impulse control, decision making, emotion regulation.”
While the brain isn’t fully developed until people reach their mid-twenties, Brunner calls Evers proposal a step in the right direction.
“It actually establishes a benchmark that is consistent with how our society with how our society generally conceptualizes the beginning of adulthood,” said Brunner.
There’s a difference between being charged as a juvenile or adult. Hertel says this includes types of punishment and whether the offense goes on someone’s criminal record.
Evers’ proposal would not bar prosecutors from trying 17-year-olds as adults for certain crimes.
In Eau Claire, Max Cotton, First News at Nine.
We reached out to several district attorney offices in the area, no one was available to comment for the story.