Friday, March 2, 2012

Will T.J. Lane Be Tried As An Adult?

This week, the prosecutors in the T.J. Lane case filed charges against him in juvenile court. But, it is still possible for them to request that the judge transfer his case to an adult court, which would make it possible for him to face significantly harsher penalties if he is found guilty in the Chadron, OH school shooting.

I have worked on several of these "transfer" cases in Colorado, where prosecutors argued to the court that the public would be better served if the juvenile in question were tried as an adult.

Each state has its own requirements for determining when a transfer from juvenile to adult court is appropriate. In Colorado, the judge must consider 14 different aspects of the case. Those aspects are listed in C.R.S. 19-2-518(4)(b) I - XIV. If Mr. Lane were to face a question of transferring his case in Colorado, these are the issues the court would need to consider (those highlighted in yellow are issues where a forensic psychologist may have some input):

(I) The seriousness of the offense and whether the protection of the community requires isolation of the juvenile beyond that afforded by juvenile facilities;
(II) Whether the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner;
(III) Whether the alleged offense was against persons or property, greater weight being given to offenses against persons;
(IV) The maturity of the juvenile as determined by considerations of the juvenile's home, environment, emotional attitude, and pattern of living;
(V) The record and previous history of the juvenile;
(VI) The likelihood of rehabilitation of the juvenile by use of facilities available to the juvenile court;
(VII) The interest of the community in the imposition of a punishment commensurate with the gravity of the offense;
(VIII) The impact of the offense on the victim;
(IX) That the juvenile was twice previously adjudicated a delinquent juvenile for delinquent acts that constitute felonies;
(X) That the juvenile was previously adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for a delinquent act that constitutes a crime of violence, as defined in section 18-1.3-406, C.R.S.;
(XI) That the juvenile was previously committed to the department of human services following an adjudication for a delinquent act that constitutes a felony;
(XII) That the juvenile is sixteen years of age or older at the time of the offense and the present act constitutes a crime of violence, as defined in section 18-1.3-406, C.R.S.;
(XIII) That the juvenile is sixteen years of age or older at the time of the offense and has been twice previously adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for delinquent acts against property that constitute felonies; and
(XIV) That the juvenile used, or possessed and threatened the use of, a deadly weapon in the commission of a delinquent act.
Note that the court needs to take into account the maturity and background history of the individual. Often, defense attorneys in transfer cases will argue that the defendant is not mature enough to face an adult sentence and his/her background is tragic and traumatic enough that trying the defendant as an adult is inappropriate. Although the court must take the juvenile's personal factors into account, they are not the only aspects of a transfer that the court must consider. As is outlined above, there are a number of other legal factors the court must weigh, some of them potentially overriding any "good" or "bad" information regarding the juvenile's maturity and personal history.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.
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