A Wake County judge will decide next week if prosecutors have probable cause to try the boys as adults for first-degree murder. If the state proceeds with adult charges the two will be placed in an adult court system that gives little lenience for their youthful offenders, reported the News-Observer.
If the boys cases are transferred to adult court — as state law requires for anyone 13 or older charged with first-degree murder — they could be treated similarly to grown men.
State law has not always allowed for juveniles accused of felonies to be tried in the adult court system. The law was changed in the early 1990s after a widespread hue and cry over the sentence given a seventh-grader who used a hammer to fatally bludgeon a 92-year-old widow while stealing her car, reported the News-Observer.
“It’s just so classic that we change our laws after a single heinous crime, when the public is up in arms,” Tamar Birckhead, an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in juvenile justice issues, told the News-Observer. “So many people are affected by this.”
Eleven percent of the violent crime in the country is committed by offenders younger than 18, Birckhead said.
The boys accused last week of first-degree murder are being held in a youth detention center as they await hearings in their case. They must take classes and can seek counseling while detained.
Though they will be kept separate from adult prisoners for a while, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted.
According to the News-Observer, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer gives judges more leeway in deciding a sentence. They can now consider sentences of less than life in prison without parole. Adults convicted of first degree murder in North Carolina are sentenced to either life in prison without the possibility of parole or death.
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