Dear Dr. Cliché,
In the past 90 days rural central Indiana has had one teen charged with attempted murder after shooting a classmate in school. Now an 11-year-old may be tried as an adult for killing his younger brother. These two boys were left alone in a house with a gun that was accessible.
Do you think an 11-year-old should ever be tried as an adult? It’s too early to
say where the judge and prosecutor are going with this, but frankly I’m
disturbed that this question has even been raised. Indiana law allows a child of age 10 to be tried for murder, but fortunately hasn’t done so for 90 years.
The ASAP (American Society of Adolescent Psychiatry) recently lobbied for and won the repeal of the death penalty for adolescents. Most of the science they used to back up that decision applies to this question as well. It has been proven beyond any doubt that both a child’s brain and an adolescent’s brain differ from that of an adult. For younger humans,
the higher center connections that allow for checks on impulsivity, reactiveness, and the ability to deal with processing more than one reality at a time, do not come in until the late teenage years. Even when the brain gets these abilities, lacking the skills to
use them, they indeed may not be used. Thus a child or an adolescent is not an
adult and therefore should not be tried as one.
That being said, there are children whom I have met that are now, and will always
be, a menace on society. These children have no sense of remorse, and are merely curious as to people’s reactions to pain and terror. They often feel superior or entitled and can hide a grudge forever over the slightest of indiscretions. Come heed- for they are a dangerous lot.
The current method of locking them up in training school until they are 18 then letting them go free is silly. They are a danger to society. To have them tried as an adult and sentenced to life long prison is not the answer either; but neither is giving them a clean slate when they reach 18. I would suggest a separate path for the “Menace to society,” with 3-10 year reviews after the age of 18. I am not sure that inpatient criminal psychiatric units for antisocial personality disorder qualify as alternate path; but it is all we have now.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny just has this to add: I don’t think that a blanket decision can cover every eventuality in human psychology. But as to whether an 11 year old should be
tried as an adult? The trial should fit the crime… and the criminal. If an 11
year old is tried as a child and found to be a pathological killer rather than
a frightened youngster who made a terrible mistake… that is how he should be
sentenced, regardless of age.
Someone who begins life as a cold blooded killer or sadist is even more of a danger to
those around him than an adult killer. One of the most effective tricks any
adult killer or criminal uses to gain the trust of potential victims is by
masquerading as a trusted member of society, such as a cop, nice young man or
nurse… and then surprising them with an unexpected attack.
Who wouldn’t open the door to a sweet little lost kid so he can use the phone to
call his mommy?