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Delaware lawmakers pass juvenile justice bills

Delaware Public Media

Juvenile justice legislation moved through the Delaware General Assembly Tuesday.

One measure allows teens who possess a gun while committing a felony to be tried as a juvenile.

Legislation signed into law last year allowed judges to divert certain kids charged as adults back to Family Court. But it didn’t include teens aged 16 years old or older charged with gun possession while committing a felony.

State Rep. J.J. Johnson sponsored that legislation. He said he reached a deal with law enforcement officials earlier this year to address that omission. A bill passed by the House Tuesday allows the teens to be tried as juveniles as long as they don’t use or display the gun during the crime.

“It doesn’t automatically mean it goes to Family Court," Johnson said. "What we’re trying to do is put some discretion back into the legal system.”

Johnson’s legislation now heads to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate is sending Gov. John Carney legislation continuing a pilot youth civil citation program set to expire later this year.

The program allows police officers to give teens a ticket rather than arrest them for misdemeanors like alcohol possession, shoplifting and criminal trespassing - if it’s a first offense.

Sen. Harris McDowell said more than 80 percent of the offenders have successfully completed the program since it was created and recidivism has dropped. “I think this is a good measure. We thought so at the time and I think that it is proving itself in the field.”

Teens are required complete community service hours and write apology letters as part of the program.

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