Adolescent murderers are referred with increasing frequency to criminal court. Where once waiving to adult court procedures occurred only rarely in the past, there has been a major shift in policy regarding murder. Although the impact has centered on adolescents, it has carried over to preteens as well.
The mandate of juvenile courts and instructions was historically one of rehabilitation and restoration to society. Miranda rights, due process, legal representation, and jury trials were not deemed necessary as the court sought to fulfill these goals. Children who murder now face a society and court system expressing a “zero tolerance” philosophy and a desire for accountability that requires penalties for serious crimes similar to those determined for adult offenders. To date no preteens waived to criminal court have been sentenced to death. Adolescents as young as 17 years of age are currently awaiting execution, and in a recent case a young person who committed murder at 15 was executed.
The assessment process is difficult with adolescents. It presents even greater difficulties when the juvenile is a preteen. Heide (1992), Grisso (1998), Hoge and Andrews (1996), and Sattler (1998) present extensive and valuable information on the techniques, resources, and issues when assessing juveniles. Although much of their presentation is focused on adolescent offenders, many of the techniques and issues also apply to preteen murderers. We will address these similarities and differences in our discussion.