By Marc Mauer

August 18, 2014

A terrible tragedy has taken place in Michigan, with a 12-year-old boy accused of killing his 9-year-old companion. The decision to try such cases in adult court raises two fundamental questions. First, is this a reasonable course of action when the defendant is just a child, and second, what would the larger community gain by doing so?

The juvenile court was established over a century ago out of the basic recognition that children are different than adults. A 12-year-old lacks the maturity to appreciate the consequences of his actions and is not capable of aiding his attorney in presenting a legal defense. Moreover, the juvenile court has historically prioritized rehabilitating youthful offenders, no matter how serious the crime, because of the understanding that such change is uniquely possible for young people.

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