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Juvenile Justice System put in the Limelight as 12-year-old is charged with Capital Murder

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A legally-controversial case in Uvalde, Texas puts an unidentified 12-year-old in the spotlight after being charged for capital murder, allegedly breaking into the house of a professional boxer and killing him Wednesday night. The boxer in question, 24-year-old John Duane VanMeter, was killed in his home and police were called to the scene after a woman, present in the same household at the time of his death, called authorities to report someone breaking into the house and killing her boyfriend.

The unidentified 12-year-old was then reported by witnesses as fleeing the scene while dressed in black, though was later identified, captured by police, and transported to Jourdanton Juvenile Detention Center, though his identity has not been revealed by authorities. However, his age does reveal the pretense that the accused could potentially one of the youngest people to be charged with capital murder.

The charge itself stems from the fact that, despite Texas being one of the states that enact the death penalty in serious cases, such as murder,  it has been outlawed to be put forth against child defendants since 2005 after a Supreme Court ruling on the matter. This hasn’t stopped prosecutors from charging the Uvalde boy with a possible 40-year sentence, though those who seek prospective reform in juvenile cases are keen on opposing this sentence.

One of these individuals is Jason Chein, a psychology professor at Temple University who has studied adolescent brain development and decision-making. Chein makes a point in that even serious youth offenders can rehabilitate with the proper care and assistance, stating:

“Impulse control is something that we see continuing to develop at least into mid-to-late adolescence. You’re going to see improvements in impulse control even up to 16 years old. That’s when it starts to level off and look like that of an adult. The science is clear here, that there is potential for an individual who shows abnormal behavior as a 12-year-old, behavior that concerns us societally, to still become re-mediated and become a healthy, functioning, normal contributor to society as an adult.” 

Another advocate for reform in the juvenile justice system is Lindsey Linder, who brings up the fact that the U.S. Sentencing Commission considers 470 months or longer to be a “de-facto life sentence.” She then goes ahead to state:

“When you say a 40-year sentence for capital murder, it may not be shocking to somebody’s conscience. But for someone who’s 12, you’re looking at nearly four times the age that they’re currently at that they would be serving…I think that you have time to work with them and see if you can’t address the root cause of what caused the harm and set them on the right path, rather than just one moment, one mistake, and you throw them away.”

Linder believes that juveniles such as the defendant deserve more than current standards for juvenile programs, instead suggesting that more facilities that “look as therapeutic and residential as possible” should be instituted, prioritizing the individualistic qualities of internment rather than a broad systematic approach.

She hopes that leniency will be given to the defendant and towards similar cases, remaining optimistic that the district attorney’s office that is handling this specific case “…has processes in place to account for youthfulness.”

NBC News

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