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Rhode Island teens charged under short-lived law wont be prosecuted in adult courts
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    PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Seventeen-year-olds who were charged with felonies as adults under a short-lived state law will either have their cases dismissed or be transferred back to juvenile court under a judge’s ruling released Tuesday.
    The decision affects about 100 teens known as ‘‘gap kids’’ who were charged from July to November after Republican Gov. Don Carcieri and the Democratic General Assembly agreed to send the teens to adult courts and prisons as a cost-saving measure.
    ‘‘It is apparent that defendants’ rights were violated by their direct placement in the adult court system,’’ Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini said in his ruling.
    The ruling means 17-year-olds charged as adults who haven’t been indicted will have their cases dismissed. Cases of those who have been indicted will be returned to Family Court, which will then decide whether to send a case back up to adult court.
    Public Defender John Hardiman called the ruling a victory. He had argued before Procaccini that sending children back to Family Court where criminal records are sealed from outside view would make it easier for teenagers to later get jobs and apply for student loans.
    ‘‘Family Court recognizes, as most people do, that juveniles are different than adults,’’ Hardiman said. ‘‘They’re still growing, they’re still maturing, there’s hope for their rehabilitation.’’
    Prosecutors opposed the move, saying it would create chaos in the court system.
    Facing a $450 million budget deficit, Carcieri proposed sending 17-year-olds to adult courts and prisons. An inmate in the state prison costs an average of $40,000 per year, compared with $98,000 for a youth held at the State Training School, which is run by the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
    But the administration never consulted with prison officials before proposing the change. If they had, they would have learned that teenagers held at the state prison are kept in protective custody, away from older, hardened inmates at an annual cost of about $104,000 per person.
    The law went into effect in July but was repealed four months later amid concerns it would not save money and would harm teenagers. Opponents have argued that teens have less access to counseling, rehabilitation and education in adult prisons. The repeal was not retroactive, so teenagers charged during the brief window were stuck in adult court.
    Procaccini ruled lawmakers had the constitutional authority to briefly subject 17-year-olds to adult court, but said the way the decision was implemented did not follow laws governing the Family Court, which handles juvenile cases.
    Defense lawyers for several 17-year-olds argued that the repeal violated their clients’ constitutional rights because it created two groups of defendants who are treated unequally.

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