State law plays a large part in what happens to a nine-year-old who commits a crime. In some states, 9 years old is deemed simply too young to charge with a crime, such as in New York State. In May 2011, in that state, a boy shot a girl with a BB gun. The boy was arrested, but was not charged criminally due to his age. The matter instead will go to family court where the best interests of the child himself will be ascertained. This could include removing him from his family.
Unfortunately, people of any age are capable of committing crimes. Problems arise, though, when very young children commit crimes. Children are, to a degree, not considered responsible for all of their own actions. As a result, all the processes that surround the investigation and trial of a 9-year-old who commits a crime are quite different from those of an adult who commits a similar offense.
One of the important rules for a child as young as 9 who commits a crime is that his identity must be protected. Although reporters may get wind of a crime committed by a young child, the police and the courts will protect the identity of the child. This sometimes changes if the crime is so serious that the child is tried as an adult. However, this would be unlikely to occur for a child who is only 9. There are some states, like Pennsylvania, that have no age limit on trying juveniles as adults.
Type of Trial
Whether a 9-year-old is tried as an adult or a juvenile depends not just on state law, but also very strongly on the severity of the crime committed. This will determine more than any other factor what happens to the child. At 9 years old, it is unlikely that a child would be tried as an adult for anything less than murder or assault with a lethal weapon of some kind. Smaller offenses would almost certainly end up in family or juvenile court. However, precedents have been set for very young children receiving adult sentences, up to and including life if murder is committed.
Almost any sentence or court recommendation for a 9-year-old is going to aim at rehabilitating the child or protecting him. A child of that age who assaults someone with a weapon should never have had access to a weapon in the first place. The sentence may be designed partly to protect the child from being in a situation where access to a weapon is possible. Protective services may be involved in a sentence, or the child may have to spend time in a child facility or receive ongoing counseling or treatment.
- WYNT; 9-Year-old Boy Faces Felony Weapon and Assault Charges; Dan Bazile; 2011
- CNN Justice; Boy, 12, Faces Grown Up Murder Charges; 2010
- Human Rights Watch; United States: Thousands of Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole; 2005
- "Time"; Should the Law Treat Kids and Adults Differently?; Jessica Reaves; 2001
- Photo Credit Darrin Klimek/Photodisc/Getty Images
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