Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why a 10-Year-Old in Pennsylvania Can Be Tried for Murder as an Adult

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why a 10-Year-Old in Pennsylvania Can Be Tried for Murder as an Adult

Article excerpt

A 10-year-old boy is old enough to allegedly beat a 90-year-old woman to death.

But is he old enough to be tried as an adult for homicide?

The law in Pennsylvania, where the murder of Helen Novak took place, says yes.

The boy was charged after his mother brought him to state police barracks the day of the murder, saying her son told her "he got mad, lost his temper and grabbed a cane and put it around Novak's throat," police told The Associated Press.

He was apparently angry that Novak had yelled at him and held a cane against her throat and repeatedly punched her, killing her, prosecutors said.

The boy was advised of his rights and interviewed by a Pennsylvania trooper, and the woman's injuries were consistent with his account, the AP reported. Novak's death was ruled a homicide after an autopsy showed blunt force trauma to her neck.

Criminal homicide is excluded from juvenile law in Pennsylvania, so the boy was charged as an adult. His attorney, Bernard Brown, said he would seek to have the boy released into his father's care at a bail hearing Wednesday. Brown said he would also follow up with a request for a competency hearing, saying evidence gathered by prosecutors suggests the boy may have mental health issues. He said those issues could indicate he is not competent to stand trial and also may support the transfer of the case to juvenile court, according to the Associated Press.

Traditionally, anyone under the age of 18 is considered a child and will be tried in the juvenile court system. But in every state there are legal provisions under which children can be tried as adults.

Nearly every state allows a juvenile court judge discretion to transfer any case to adult court, waiving the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court to hear cases involving juvenile offenders. Statutory law can require certain serious crimes, such as murder, be charged in adult court even if the defendant is a minor. In states where adult criminal courts have no jurisdiction in cases involving a juvenile defendant, or where both the juvenile courts and adult criminal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving certain crimes, prosecutors are allowed to decide whether to charge the case in juvenile court or adult criminal court. …

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