WBEN sought commentary from Paul Cambria, noted Buffalo criminal defense attorney, on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request to the state legislature to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Mr. Cambria discussed how this would change the way 16- and 17-year-olds are treated in New York’s criminal justice system.
Click here for the full interview.
Exposure to hardened criminals may be the real issue
Mr. Cambria noted that he thinks the most important issue is where young people are housed. “Should it be a normal prison situation,” he asked, “or should it be special places for people who are less than 18 years of age? I think that’s the gist of the complaints that the protesters were making: would you take someone 16, 17, and put them into an adult prison, and would they learn there the ways of crime rather than be on the road to rehabilitation?”
How much difference would two years make?
Asked about how different a 16-year-old might be than an 18-year-old, Mr. Cambria pointed out that “it’s hard to just lump people together. I’ve seen some extremely streetwise, sophisticated 17-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and then you get older people who are 19 and 20, and they are very naïve.” He added, “I really think the problem is in the prison part of it rather than in the responsibility for the crime.”
Reform may be easier for young offenders
“Without a doubt,” Mr. Cambria replied when asked if young people can be reformed once they have been convicted and incarcerated, “and more so than older people.” He pointed out about young people that “a lot of them are involved in peer-pressure crimes. Some are involved in ‘need’ crimes, in the sense that they have a home where things aren’t provided, and they ‘need’ this particular game, so they go out and steal it. There are so many impressionable things that happen to youngsters that put them into crime, and once they’re in the right kind of environment, you can rehab them a lot easier than you can some older ones.”
“I have no problems raising the age for certain crimes,’ Mr. Cambria said, but added that for others, “for example, a 16 year old [who] murders someone, I don’t have a problem with the fact that they could be treated as an adult. It depends on the crime, and it depends on where they house them.”
The chair of Lipsitz Green’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria also advises clients on constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. His practice is nationwide, and he divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.