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Juvenile charged in D.C. shootings can't be tried as adult

Washington Post Editors

Although it is not unusual for juveniles accused of serious crimes in the District to be prosecuted as adults, that won’t happen to the 14-year-old boy charged with murder in Tuesday’s mass shooting in the city, authorities said.

Under D.C. law, a youngster under age 15 cannot treated as an adult in the court system no matter how heinous the alleged offense.

In Maryland and Virginia, where juvenile justice statutes are less tolerant, suspects as young as 14 can be put on trial in adult court and sentenced to prison for certain crimes, including murder. In the District, however, the youth arrested Tuesday will face only limited consequences if a judge concludes that he took part in the drive-by attack that killed four people and wounded five others.

In family court, where his case will be handled, even the legal terminology is different: A trial is not a trial; it is a nonjury “fact-finding hearing” before a judge. The accused is called a “respondent,” not a defendant, and the possible verdicts are “involved” or “not involved” instead of guilty or not guilty. The sentencing is called a “disposition.”

If the boy is found culpable for murder, a family court judge cannot order confinement. A respondent can be either placed on probation or committed to the custody of the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. DYRS decides whether a juvenile offender should be held in a detention facility, and for how long.

The 14-year-old boy could be locked up only until he turned 21. Then the family court and DYRS would lose jurisdiction over him, and he would go free.

The U.S. attorney’s office in the District has the discretion to prosecute a 16- or 17-year-old suspect as an adult if the youth is charged with murder, armed robbery, rape or first-degree burglary. Such cases are not uncommon.

A 15-year-old suspect accused of one of those crimes must be charged initially as a juvenile, but a family court judge can transfer the case to adult court if the youth is a repeat offender who has made no progress toward rehabilitation.

After the 14-year-old boy’s arrest in Tuesday’s shootings, a family court judge noted that he had been found “involved” in nine previous crimes, including assault and theft, and had been placed in DYRS custody on six occasions. He had fled from detention at least twice and was listed as an “absconder” at the time of the drive-by attack.

A law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because juvenile cases are confidential, said that if the youngster were older, his history would make him “a prime candidate” for transfer out of family court.

But the law won’t allow it. Eight months shy of his 15th birthday, he is beyond the reach of adult justice.

-- Paul Duggan

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 2, 2010; 8:37 AM ET
Categories:  Homicide , Juvenile Justice , Paul Duggan , The District , Updates  
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This isn't the last time this monster will be in the news. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!

Posted by: psuvo | April 2, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Make no mistake, he will kill again. He is an animal and a mass murderer. The systrem will treat him wiht kid gloves and either he will walk out again or they will let him go in 7 years.

He will kill again. And someone will be responsible. To say "we did what we could" when it comes to this monster will not be enough.

Posted by: tommc1 | April 2, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

DYRS needs and overhaul. This is ridiculous!! I can't believe somebody can shoot up a crowd of people and get a slap on the wrist. DC is our Nation's Capital and they really need to do better than this.

Posted by: TCfromtheLP | April 2, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

DC Residents continually voted Marion Berry as their mayor, they don't want to "ruin" a 14 yr old's chances at rehab by sending him to prison for commiting serious crimes (as a REPEAT offender)...when will the dolts in DC learn...

Posted by: nascarfancier | April 2, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

If these people are THAT hell-bent on shooting folks, why not put them to good use? Send their butts to Afghanistan, or IRAQ...let them really play with the BIG boys, they'll learn to shape up, or come home in plastic...either way is fine

Posted by: nascarfancier | April 2, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

This is the result of the DC Council. This jerk will be out again, and will commit murder. He killed one, DC Council will have killed the rest.

Posted by: 123cartoon | April 2, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Duggan, any idea if juvenile law of this sort is set via the Cmte on Public Safety and the Judiciary? Or is it set via DHS and DYRS?

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | April 2, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Where are the parents? Clearly, they let this life happen to their child, and they should be charged with child neglect.

Posted by: pidgey1 | April 2, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I agree with a previous comment...

...put him in the military. The Marines to be specific. Let's see what kind of attitude or discipline problems this kid has when the DI (Drill Instructor) gets ahold of him. If he wants to kill, the Corp can always use another meat shield.

Posted by: ericroks | April 2, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

let me start off by saying yes this was crazy and the 4 that was doing the shooting should go to jail no question about that. now here where my questions start how many people that was on the corner that night lived the way they died?when it all comes out we will see that 1 or more of those that was on the corner was the same people that shot at the carter sure dcpd has the whole story now to many people locked up and faceing to much time for them not too.i am soory to the familes for their lost too many kids not given them self a chance when will it stop?WHEN THE DADS GET OUT OF JAIL AND THE MOTHERS STAY OUT THE CULB THEY ARE KIDS NOT FRIENDS.....

Posted by: VNCHOW | April 2, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Whats sad is that this kid has a long a storied juvenile rap sheet... this is no the first serious thing he has been apart of.... Law needs to be repealed and revised. I do agree with other posters here... it will nto be the last time we hear his name and crime in the same sentence.

Posted by: rvanags | April 2, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: wisedecision08 | April 2, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

So typical of the system in DC which has been broken down for years, and helps create and continue this type of uncivilized culture. This is why crime and violence will continue in DC for years to come. It is a haven for criminals. Even in the adult system, a jury will frequently practice bias jury nullification because they do not want black males to go to jail. It is easier to just simply blame the police for not protecting the citizens while somehow allowing offenders to go unpunished as well. They want the police to baby-sit and supervise, NOT enforce laws and apprehend offenders!!

Posted by: GolfPro2 | April 2, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

What is this "Adult Justice" you speak of?? The concern should only be Justice. If the suspect is only 14 years old, his mental capacity is not that of an adult. Maybe instead of writing from a biased perspective you could challenge yourself to actually learn why there is a juvenile justice system and why such age limit laws exist.

Posted by: egenius | April 3, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

The message this is being sent to other young boys is truly sad. What about the young guy is Florida and Texas last year- tried as adults in crimes of the same nature. I feel so sorry for the "salt being poured in the wounds" of the young folks killed families. If this "punk" is carrying all of these prior crimes, --- what is this telling him. Will he be a witness for the Government or what---probably NOT. I can see why "Ms. Justice" is wearing that blindfold now!

I pray the families can find balance in their grief.

Posted by: Dejavu8 | April 7, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

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