Morgan Geyser, 12, and Anissa Weier, 13, of Waukesha, Wi., face prosecution as adults for the near fatal stabbing of their sixth grade classmate Payton Leutner after a birthday celebratory sleepover. The girls reportedly acted out of fear that the fictional villain Slender Man would harm them or their families unless they complied with his sacrificial demand. In Wisconsin, anyone 10 or over who is charged with first-degree homicide must be tried in adult criminal court. The girls’ only hope, writes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox in USA Today, is that the judge will reduce the charge to second-degree attempted homicide, allowing the case to be moved to juvenile court.
There are many drawbacks to trying kids as adults and few advantages, Fox says. The juvenile justice system is predicated on the principle of rehabilitation, for which youngsters have greater capacity than their older counterparts. Criminal courts are far more punitive and far less concerned with what might be in the best interests of a young defendant. Studies have demonstrated that youngsters prosecuted and punished as adults recidivate at a higher rate than those adjudicated in the juvenile justice system for similar offenses. Legislators worried about voter reaction were they to be viewed as soft on crime hesitate to roll back tough-sounding policies. To see a major reform of laws on trying youths as adults, Fox believes “it will likely take the politically insulated U.S. Supreme Court to do the right thing.”