Published January 28, 2011
Should an 11-year-old who allegedly kills a 26-year-old pregnant woman and mother of two with a shotgun be charged as an adult? That's the question in Pennsylvania.
The facts are simple. An 11-year-old received a shotgun as a gift for Christmas from his dad. He was a good shot, and won a turkey shoot less than two weeks before the shooting -- beating out several adults. The victim was his father's girlfriend who was pregnant with his father's child. The boy and his father were living in the same home with the victim and her two daughters, just seven and four years old.
The issue of children being prosecuted as adults has always been controversial. Our belief that children should be treated differently stems from a society trying to protect those who are young and capable of reform. On the other hand, there are those who believe the punishment should fit the crime, not the criminal.
The United States Supreme Court has held that the purpose of juvenile courts is to seek rehabilitation, supervision or provide counseling. Treatment of juveniles is usually more lenient than for adults. The purpose is to protect youth and guide them to more productive lives, while still holding them accountable to some degree for their actions.
Juvenile court proceedings are generally private and held in rooms separate from adult courtrooms. If the offender is found delinquent, a probation officer prepares a more detailed report recommending a sentence. The harshest treatment is a sentence in a locked juvenile facility.
Historically, the fact that children were treated differently often caused a deprivation of their rights. The United States Supreme Court in 1967 dealt with this issue in a landmark case (In re Gault). There, a 15-year-old was arrested for making dirty remarks over the telephone. He was arrested and kept in custody. His parents were not advised that he was in police custody nor were they advised of the charges against him. He was held in a detention facility for a week. No record of the proceeding was kept; and the witness to whom he made the call didn't even appear in court. He was sentenced to spend the next six years in a state school until he was 21 years old. His parents were poor, did not have a high school education and only had $100, but pursued the matter and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the highest court in the land, extending rights to children that adults customarily had, overturned his conviction.
The decision to prosecute a child as an adult is a difficult one. I know. I have made the decision to prosecute a 12-year-old killer as an adult. The choice is not about being "hard" or being compassionate. It is about recognizing the evil that accompanies a killer's choice to take the life of an innocent pregnant woman and mother of two, whose children will never get to hug their mother again because an angry "boy" with a gun decided she should die.
Once a decision is made to prosecute a juvenile as an adult, the case is transferred to an adult court. Such a transfer can have serious sentencing consequences -- the juvenile can be sentenced to life or even death (if he or she is over age 18 years old at the time of sentencing).
In the case at hand, the District Attorney in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania has made the decision to prosecute this 11-year-old as an adult. He bases this on the theory that the crime was "premeditated," in that the boy first came downstairs with a weapon and was seen by the victim's seven-year-old daughter.
He reversed course, went back to his room, and put a blanket over the gun. He then returned to the first floor bedroom where his victim was sleeping and shot her in the back of the head.
There are reports that the 11-year-old had threatened to kill his victim and her daughters for months.
His callous action -- throwing a spent shell casing from his shotgun, before getting on a bus to go to school, was witnessed by the seven-year-old girl. That shell casing was later recovered by the police.
A three judge panel of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania met in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to determine whether or not Jordan Anthony Brown should be tried as an adult. A County Court judge already refused to move Brown’s case to juvenile court. If tried as an adult Brown faces life in prison but would be free by age 21 if he was tried in juvenile court.
I agree with the decision to try Brown as an adult because it appears that this boy plotted to kill his father's fiance. He not only threatened to kill her, he, at first, hid the gun and then picked up shell casing before getting on the bus to go to school.
Judge Jeanine Pirro is the host of "Justice with Judge Jeanine" which airs Saturday evenings at 9 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel. She is also the host of a daytime courtshow "Judge Pirro." She is a former County Court Judge and District Attorney of Westchester County, New York .