JONSEBORO, Ark. – Why are juveniles sometimes charged as adults in criminal cases?
As prosecuting attorney, Scott Ellington makes the final felony prosecution decisions for the Second Judicial District. It includes Craighead County – where two minors are being charged as adults for conspiracy to commit capital murder after a plot was foiled at a local school.
Earlier this week, Ellington talked to NEA Report about the process behind his office charging minors as adults in felony cases.
“Any sixteen or seventeen year old who commits a felony could be charged as an adult,” Ellington said. “In making those charging considerations, we look at previous contacts or encounters with the law including juvenile court or other felony charges. Pretty much, if they’ve ever caught a felony charge being 16, if they catch a felony charge at 17, we are not going to let that happen.”
Last week, two 17-year-old males from Westside School District were arrested and are currently being charged as adults after a judge found probable cause to approve the prosecutor’s request. Patrick Houston and Dakota Hays are both facing felony charges of criminal conspiracy to commit capital murder and possession of a firearm by a minor on school property. They’re accused of exchanging a gun in a bathroom January 23 on campus. Houston allegedly was plotting to kill someone at work. Hays allegedly supplied the gun. Both are said to have conspired regarding disposal of the body. Read More Here
If someone is 16 or 17 and they commit a violent offense, Ellington said as a rule, he would charge the suspect as an adult. The suspect’s attorney can petition to have it reduced back down to juvenile court.
If convicted in juvenile court, the conviction will not be on any record other than something accessible by law enforcement. The public cannot see it.
But it may still factor into future charging decisions according to the prosecutor.
“Some criminal violations have a substantial range of punishment,” Ellington said. “If the juvenile violator were charged in juvenile court, the range of the punishment is tied to their age and not the significance of the crime. A juvenile 16-year-old or older can – by statute – be charged as an adult for felony offenses. Some felony offenses may be appropriately charged in juvenile court depending on the crime. However, violent crimes will most likely be charged in adult court.”
A juvenile charged as an adult faces almost every penalty an adult would, with a few exceptions. A juvenile convicted of capital murder gets life with opportunity for parole. They can’t get the death penalty or life without parole, the prosecutor said.
If the two 17-year-old Westside students are convicted of their felony charges, they each could face as much as 36 years – although serving the maximum sentence without early release is highly unlikely.
But the tragedies that have unfolded at schools, including at Westside itself, necessitate a more firm approach, the prosecutor said.
“As I said in the bond hearing, we’re going to be firm on anybody that brings a gun to a public school,” Ellington said. “Certainly, at the campus that these boys are charged with bringing [a weapon] to, the Westside district, we had to look at the facts of that, where it took place, and the history.”