Tuesday, December 30, 2008

There have been some new developments in the case of the 8 year-old murder suspect. First, he's no longer 8. He turned 9 on Monday.

More significantly, the defense-nominated mental health expert filed a report finding that the boy is not competent to stand trial and is unlikely to be restored to competency within 240 days, which according to this article on MSNBC is the critical number of days. If the incompetent defendant cannot be restored to competency within that time frame, the case could be dropped with prejudice, meaning it could not be refiled. The prosecution's nominated expert has not yet filed his/her report.

It seems pretty unsurprising that a mental health expert would think a 9 year-old lacked the age and intelligence to understand a premeditated murder charge. In many states, the minimum age for filing criminal charges, even in the juvy system, against kids is 10 years-old precisely because no younger child would be able to comprehend the process and his or her role in it.

Of course, the natural follow-up thought is that if the defendant, by virtue of his age and intelligence, isn't competent to understand the charge of premeditated murder, he should also necessarily lack the ability to commit premeditated murder. Because 8 and 9 year-olds just aren't physically and emotionally equipped to think through decisions or to comprehend the consequences of those actions, at least not in matters of this gravity. A kid of that tender age who does something awful needs a kind of response that the criminal justice system just isn't equipped to provide.

Maybe (assuming the St. Johns authorities are correct and did shoot the two men) this case might soon get out of the criminal justice system and the child can get into the kinds of therapy and social support programs that might really be able to address his needs.

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