Charged as an adult with first-degree murder, Eric Brown, 15, is due for a hearing in Baltimore today that could determine if he spends the rest of his life in prison or has his case transferred to the more lenient juvenile courts.
The Baltimore Sun says that defense lawyers will argue that Brown should be in juvenile court because he has a lengthy history of mental and emotional problems and lived in wretched conditions at home. The teen-ager, 14 at the time of the killing, needs treatment, not punishment, they argue. Prosecutors say he should remain in the adult system because he is charged with the coldblooded shooting death of a man he didn’t know. Arrested at least nine times as a juvenile and accused of skipping school and fleeing group homes and other programs designed to help him, Brown doesn’t deserve another shot at rehabilitation, prosecutors argue.
The hearing is one of about 200 every year in Baltimore. The Sun says that the cases pose dilemmas for prosecutors and defense lawyers, but especially for judges.
Putting youthful offenders in the juvenile system gives them a chance to turn around their lives. Yet a youth will spend at most a few years, even as little as a few months, in custody, and be released to perhaps commit another violent crime. In adult court, youths face harsher conditions behind bars and will have an adult conviction that will dog them for life. It “is probably one of the most agonizing decisions a judge can have,” said Baltimore Judge David W. Young. “You just always wonder if you are making the right decision. You don’t have a crystal ball.”
About 400 youths are arrested on adult charges in Baltimore each year, and about 200 seek hearings for transfers to juvenile court. Prosecutors also can seek to send teen-agers charged as juveniles to the adult system. About 275, mostly chronic offenders or those who are facing other adult charges, are moved to adult courts each year. The Sun describes details of some of the close cases.