When a juvenile commits a crime, the juvenile justice system is intended to help rehabilitate the child, so the penalties don’t follow him/her into adulthood. But when a juvenile faces a murder charge in Indiana, the consequences can be remarkably severe.
This fact has been underscored by several recent murder cases involving teens. In 2019, a 15-year-old was tried as an adult for murder and received 45 years in prison. In January of this year, the Indianapolis Star reports another juvenile was arrested and charged for a string of five murders. If the teen is tried as an adult, as is expected to happen, the court could impose consecutive sentences for each of the murders, essentially resulting in a life sentence for the teenager.
Taking Things Too Far?
Stories like these raise an important question regarding Indiana’s juvenile justice system: are the current sentencing guidelines too extreme when teens are tried as adults for more serious crimes? According to the current system, minors aged 16-17 who are charged with murder are automatically tried as adults outside the juvenile justice system. For younger defendants, the courts have more latitude in deciding. Considering that sentences can be imposed consecutively—and that the recommended sentencing for multiple murders is 45-65 years per count—a teenager could theoretically be falsely accused of murder, and if convicted, could face life in prison. The fact that teens can’t be given the death sentence is little consolation when we consider an innocent teen could be imprisoned for life before even having a chance at life.
First Steps at Reform
There are glimmers of hope on the horizon for making some needed changes to the juvenile justice system. A bill is currently making its way through the Indiana legislature that would automatically expunge a juvenile’s criminal record by the age of 18 for misdemeanor offenses—and give the courts discretion to expunge the record for felony offenses. While this bill doesn’t completely address the problem of overly severe sentencing for juveniles, it would at least give the courts a tool to implement more common sense when it comes to deciding whether a teen’s record should haunt them for life.
If you are the parent of a teenager who has been accused of a serious crime in Indiana, it’s unwise to assume the juvenile justice system will protect your child’s future. You need a solid legal ally who will fight aggressively to safeguard your child’s rights through the process. The criminal justice attorneys at Razumich & Associates can help. Contact us today to learn more.