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Most Indiana youths convicted of murder get adult sentence

July 25, 2016

Indiana Department of Correction data shows the vast majority of youths found guilty of murder in the state are sentenced as adults.

In the past five years, fewer than 2 percent have been sentenced as juveniles.

Marion County prosecutor's office spokeswoman Peg McLeish told the Indianapolis Star that prosecutors consider the specific circumstances when deciding whether to waive a child to adult court.

Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores said as long as children are 12 years or older, their cases can be waived to adult court.

A murder conviction in adult court could lead to 45 to 65 years in prison. In juvenile court, a child might be ordered to attend anger management classes or receive counseling.

Moores said that because juvenile court emphasizes rehabilitation, the court's ability to help the child is considered in the decision on whether to waive a case. Key factors include whether the child has previously completed rehabilitation services and whether the child is agreeable after being charged.

Children can be rehabilitated and return to society about 90 percent of the time, according to Stephen Harper, a law professor at Florida International University.

"When dealing with 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds, most of the crimes they commit are literally a cry for help," Harper said. "Nobody is paying attention to them, so (juvenile court) is the appropriate place they should be tried."

Children, especially those younger than 16, often have a different understanding of life than adults do, Harper said.

"Thirteen-year-olds may do something they don't think is going to have permanent consequences," Harper said. "They don't have the same sense of literally life and death."

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