The case of a teenage boy accused of sexually assaulting and murdering an 8-year-old girl in Santa Cruz, Calif., is the latest test of the media’s conventions on whether to name juveniles charged with crimes, reports Columbia Journalism Review. The 15-year-old’s name was withheld initially but was widely reported when prosecutors announced that he would be charged as an adult. “It's a simple rule of thumb,” said San Fransisco Chronicle reporter Henry K. Lee. “Is he charged as an adult? Yes? Boom, we run the name.”
The process of trying minors as adults is controversial and varies widely from state to state. In general, the “adult” designation allows for longer sentences than are available in the juvenile system. Fundamental steps to protect children, such as hiding their identities, are often tossed aside by the legal system once the “adult” label is affixed. “We're generally following the lead of the criminal justice system,” said Bert Robinson, managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News.