Javarick Henderson Jr. is accused of fatally stabbing his grandmother in St. Petersburg, Florida. Henderson, who is 13 years old, has been indicted for first-degree murder by a grand jury and if convicted, he will face life in prison. “Should a 13-year-old accused of murder be in the adult system?” See Tampa Bay Times article by Kathryn Varn, Published Jan. 5, 2020.
The criminal justice system has struggled for years with what to do with children who have been accused of serious crimes. It seems like the cases have become more frequent and more serious over the years.
What Do You Do with a 13-year Old Who Murders His Grandmother?
In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has decided a series of cases defining the limits on juvenile sentencing. These cases recognize that juveniles are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing because they have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform. The Supreme Court has found that the Constitution prohibits the imposition of the death penalty on a juvenile offender and also forbids a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile who did not commit homicide. What the States must do, according to the Supreme Court, is to provide the offender with some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.
The Florida Legislature has enacted new laws, and the Florida Supreme Court has made new rules for juvenile offenders. The new rules recognize and require sentencing judges to consider a defendant’s age, maturity, and intellectual capacity and the possibility of rehabilitation.
A child’s brain has not fully developed, making them more likely to act impulsively than adults, experts say. The system should treat children differently than adults.
“When you put that kid in an adult system, you’re basically throwing them away,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s not designed to make sure that the kid gets better.”
Who Decides What Do You Do with a Child Who Commits a Serious Crime?
The State Attorney’s Office has the sole discretion to charge a child as an adult or seek an indictment by a grand jury. Prosecutors should spend more time examining factors that could affect the case, such as family background, competency to stand trial and a child’s chances of being rehabilitated.
A better method would be judicial review, or when a judge makes the call. Judicial review is the gold standard for reform advocates, said McCoy of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also works with the nonpartisan coalition No Place for a Child, aimed at reducing adult transfers in Florida.
Putting a kid in an institutional setting is traumatizing, and it’s difficult to predict the long-term consequences, said Marsha Levick, chief legal officer for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. Society, she said, “should be attentive to how we treat children who commit even the most heinous crimes.”
Kids who commit violent crimes can be rehabilitated, said Kathleen Heide, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida and expert in juvenile homicides. The part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and decision-making doesn’t fully develop until you’re 23 to 25, she said. “Kids are much more likely to be influenced by the more emotional part of the brain,” Heide said. “They tend to be on average more impulsive than adults.” Assessing the child, then gearing treatment and consequences toward the underlying problem, is key to helping them, Heide said.
Drug Abuse and Addiction may be a contributing factor when children commit serious crimes. Drug courts may offer therapies that include medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Addiction is a chronic brain disease in which a person regularly finds and uses drugs. It is a brain disease because addiction can change how the brain works. Without treatment and recovery, addiction may keep getting worse. See “Is Drug Abuse and Addiction really a crime”, By Daniel J. Fernandez.
Should I Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney If My Child or a Juvenile Loved-One Commits a Serious Crime?
If your child or a juvenile loved-one has been arrested for a serious offense and needs help, it is critical that you get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Juvenile crime is complex and requires the help of someone with experience and knowledge. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to avoid a lengthy prison term and get the help you need.
Why Fernandez & Hernandez?
Fernandez & Hernandez can assist and guide you through the process. The attorneys at Fernandez & Hernandez have many years of experience and may be able to help you find a solution to your problem. If you need legal assistance with a juvenile case call Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Daniel J. Fernandez of Fernandez & Hernandez at 813-229-5353.