In 1972, Michigan’s Age of Majority Act changed existing law to provide that a person who was 18 years of age (instead of 21) was considered to be an adult for all purposes.
The reasons given for this included that if one was old enough to serve in the military they should be considered to be an adult and the voting age had been lowered to 18.
Exceptions to this law were eventually made including raising the legal drinking age back to 21 in 1978.
Another exception occurred in the opposite direction, when Michigan enacted legislation in 1988 making 17 year olds adults in criminal cases.
As a result, our current laws provide that those who are at least 17 years old are prosecuted in adult criminal courts and those 14 to 16 years old in the Family Division of Circuit Court.
There are exceptions to these rules called “Automatic Waivers” for 18 specified felonies (such as murder), when juveniles are automatically subject to Circuit Court jurisdiction.
A prosecutor can also petition the family division to have a juvenile tried as an adult for other felony offenses.
In the law things can change, and in the last few years there has been growing support from case law, research, and public opinion to increase the age for adult criminal prosecutions in Michigan (and elsewhere) to 18.
The case law comes from the United States Supreme Court, which has recognized the difference between 17 year olds and adults in a number of its decisions.
The research shows that an adolescent’s brain is different from an adult’s and young defendants should be viewed differently in appropriate cases.
Public opinion has been positive with a number of groups and individuals calling for the increase.
As a result, on Oct. 16, the Michigan legislature passed a 16-bill package by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, raising the age to 18, which has been sent to Governor Whitmer for her approval.
This is part of a recent national trend, which has seen the number of states with a lower age for adult prosecutions reduced from 15 to 3 (if the bills are signed). The remaining states are Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin.
Next week Part II — what the bills provide.