The U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee has taken the rare step of charging three juveniles in federal court, including two for bank robbery and another in a high-profile carjacking, amid growing concern over violence by young offenders. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says they are the first cases involving juveniles in U.S. Attorney James Santelle’s nearly six-year tenure. A check of federal court records shows only one previous case involving a juvenile in the region more than 10 years ago. Santelle agreed to review juvenile cases after meeting with officials from the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County district attorney’s office and Mayor Tom Barrett’s office, all of whom are increasingly alarmed about violent crime by juveniles and saw a role for federal prosecution in certain cases.
Santelle said the federal system can be used to hold youth offenders accountable with potentially higher penalties. All three were 17-year-olds at the time and would have been treated as adults in state court in Wisconsin. To be prosecuted in federal court, a juvenile must be at least 16 years old, has to have been adjudicated delinquent for a violent felony earlier in life, and has to be facing a violent crime charge. “We do not do this lightly,” Santelle said. “It is rare, atypical, but useful in the right circumstances.” Police Chief Edward Flynn said federal prosecution of juveniles is a powerful tool. “What we need is both incapacitation of the truly violent, but also whatever deterrent effect can be achieved in getting the attention of other offenders that they are vulnerable to these prosecutions,” he said. “Some of our juveniles are extremely violent early and are a true menace to their communities and have to be dealt with as the serious threats that they are, age notwithstanding.”