February 9, 2011
A Pennsylvania appellate court recently heard thirteen-year-old Jordan Brown’s appeal of a lower court’s decision to try him as an adult for the murder of his father’s fiancée. Brown, who was eleven years old at the time of the 2009 killing, had moved to have his case transferred to juvenile court, but a judge denied that request in March of 2010.
Pennsylvania law requires that individuals accused of murder be tried as adults, unless the accused succeeds in having the case transferred to juvenile court. PA ST 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 6355(e) provides, in part:
Where the petition alleges conduct which if proven would constitute murder, . . . the court shall require the offense to be prosecuted under the criminal law and procedures, except where the case has been transferred pursuant to section 6322 (relating to transfer from criminal proceedings) from the division or a judge of the court assigned to conduct criminal proceedings.
The “Section 6322” referred to in that subsection allows the accused to attempt to have his case transferred to juvenile court, but places the burden of proof on the juvenile:
[T]he child shall be required to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the transfer will serve the public interest.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of 16 or 17 year-olds being tried as adults, but I can’t recall hearing of many 11-year-olds facing trial as an adult. According to this story, Brown would be the youngest person in U.S. history to face life without parole if convicted.
I ran a quick search on Westlaw.com to see how many cases I could find that dealt with young individuals being tried as adults. I chose to look for ages 5 to 12. The search, age year-old /2 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 /s tried trial try! punish! charg! indict! +5 “as an adult” in ALLCASES, returned 40 results. At least one of the cases also dealt with an individual who, like Brown, was 11 at the time of the offense. Another case, Commonwealth v. Kocher, 602 A.2d 1308, which also happened to be a Pennsylvania case, involved a nine-year-old charged as an adult.