By: LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.
As recently reported in the media, an 8-year old boy has been charged with the premeditated double murder of his father and another man. The third-grader may even be charged as an adult for the crime.
Reports indicate the father taught his son how to use guns. Since the family members are avid hunters, the father specifically taught his son how to use a rifle to shoot prairie dogs. The boy apparently used a .22-caliber rifle in shooting his father and the other man. While many in the town are reacting to the news with shock and concluding a child that young could not have known what he was doing, police believe abuse may have triggered the boy to plan to kill his father and the other man.
Juvenile offenders can be tried as adults in criminal court by being "transferred" to adult court from the juvenile justice system. Upon transfer to adult court, juvenile defendants lose their legal status as minor children and become fully culpable for their behavior. If convicted as a minor, the 8-year old boy in this case could be sentenced to juvenile detention until he reaches the age of 18. If charged as an adult, he would face the same punishment as an adult would for first degree murder (i.e. life in prison, with or without parole depending on the outcome). While the death penalty is an available punishment for adults in Arizona (where this case occurred), if a juvenile defendant was under the age of 16 when the offense occurred the death penalty is not available under the case of Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 US 815 (1988).
So, should an 8-year old be tried as an adult?
According to the CDC on child development, 8-year old children are developed enough to "... dress themselves, catch a ball more easily with only their hands, and tie their shoes..." Further, the National Network for Child Care reports that children at this age "...are beginning to see things from another child's point of view, but they still have trouble understanding the feelings and needs of other people..." and they are just starting to "...learn [how to] to plan ahead and evaluate what they do." Finally, the American Psychological Association reports that "...the part of the brain that is responsible for good judgment and the control of impulses—the pre-frontal cortex—is still immature; consequently, children of this age-period .... don’t have yet the capacity to fully control their impulses."
So you tell me - can an 8-year old child really premeditate and plan the murder of two adult men? Even if you conclude that an 8-year old has this ability - should an 8-year old be charged in the same way that an adult would be charged with a similar crime?
Juvenile justice is a serious matter. For more information about juvenile law, contact an attorney in your area.
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