Pause before trying youths as adults
A state legislator is proposing that youths ages 15-17 charged with murder or rape be tried as adults.
The arrest last year of a 15-year-old boy on charges of raping and murdering an Ewa Beach woman has prompted a call for requiring that such defendants be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. That case and others should generate a comprehensive review of the rules before changes are made.
A Family Court judge now decides whether a juvenile of any age charged with murder or attempted murder should be tried as an adult. The decision in the case of the youth accused in last May's rape and strangling of Karen Ertell has been delayed until April 8 while the defense's psychiatric report is completed.
Changing the statute to make such a transfer to adult court mandatory would not affect the case of Ertell's alleged killer, which is bound by existing law. Unless the boy is found committable to a mental institution, he is highly likely to be transferred to adult court because of previous criminal activity and association with hooligans, in defiance of a counselor's admonishment, and because of precedents in sending similar cases to adult court.
State Rep. Kymberly Pine of Ewa Beach proposes that youths ages 15-17 be automatically tried as adults if accused of murder or rape. State laws on transfer of juveniles to adult court vary. Prosecutors in 15 states make the decision, while 29 states assign certain classes of juvenile cases directly to criminal court.
A 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision listed eight factors that should be considered, including the seriousness and violence of the offense, community protection, and the maturity and criminal history of the juvenile. The high court now is being asked to consider whether a 30-year prison sentence of a teen for killing his grandparents in South Carolina when he was 12 was cruel.
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