Wednesday, December 31, 2008

8-Year-Old Incompetent Says Expert

MSNBC reports on the determination by the defense-appointed psychologist that the 8-year-old Arizona shooter, who recently turned 9, is incompetent to stand trial.

A psychologist found a 9-year-old murder suspect incompetent to stand trial and determined the boy's age and intelligence keep him from understanding the premeditated murder charges he faces, the boy's defense lawyer said.

The mental health expert nominated by the defense also said the boy could not be restored to competency within the time allowed by law, attorney Benjamin Brewer said this week.

When discussing this case before, here and here, I think just about everyone was in agreement that the police did not conduct themselves properly and that something was wrong with prosecutors talking about premeditated murder in a case like this. There were those, of course, who commented about the accountability that must always follow one's actions, even one as young as this.

My own observation is that in this recent report which very well may lead to dropping the charges and getting the boy the help he needs, there still seems to be some kind of stubborn reluctance on the part of arresting officers and prosecutors to recognize the ridiculousness of charging a child in this manner.

Prosecutor Brad Carlyon said he expects the case to either go to trial or end with a plea deal by March or April, unless the boy is found incompetent with a chance of rehabilitation. That could delay the case by months while efforts are made to restore him to competency.

I offer a big hat tip to the Preaching to the Choir site for her common sense views. Sarah said, "this case might soon get out of the criminal justice system and the child can get into the kinds of therapy and social support programs that might really be able to address his needs." I could not agree more.

What's your opinion? Is 10 years of age a good point at which to consider kids responsible for their actions? What do we do with the younger ones? Is it possible for a young kid to commit acts of violence and not have had violence done to him first? In other words, is there such a thing as a bad seed, a kid from a fairly normal family who just goes bad?

What do you think?


  1. All this is defendant on the child. Do you think a 16 year old Wiz-Kid working on his second year of his BS is impossible/illigal? How about a 40 year old man living in a group home who's never been potty-trained and is too incompetent to even hold down the most basic of jobs...

    The human mind is an amazing thing, and all of ours are different. The law is one of generalities, and appeals like this or of Temporary insanity, or "tried as an adult" are all there to make sure justice is served.

    In this case I don't think the boy did it, and I think the police abused their power and coerced a confession out of a scared and traumatized little boy.

    But I also know that the general public has been fed a load of shit on this case, so I don't invest much in it as I will never have access to the casefiles. The Judge and Jury will. My faith lies with them.

  2. Sure, we're all different, but we can make some generalities. In fact, I think the legal system has to. I think presumptions work pretty well as long as in each case, defendants have the opportunity to overcome those presumptions so we can judge the competence of individual defendants. That system allows for Weer'd's 40 year-old to be found incompetent and for the state to ask the 16 year-old whiz kid be tried as an adult.

    I do prefer a bright line rule that any kid under 10 can't be charged criminally, even as a juvenile. I refuse to believe that there is such a thing as a "Bad Seed" kid (though I did enjoy the t.v. movie remake with Blair Brown, not so much the later Macaulay Culkin feature film remake, and I have not seen the entire original). I also prefer systems that do not allow children under 14 or 15 to be waived into adult court. I'm just an optimist who believes everyone is worth saving and that any kid who commits criminal acts didn't get there on his/her own.

    As for this particular case, I definitely share Weer'd's skepticism. The confession is worthless. Given that that's what the police and prosecution are going with, I don't have much faith in whatever other evidence they think they have that supports their conclusion that the boy is the shooter.

    As for the matter being left to a jury, to the best of my research, juvenile defendants in Arizona do not have the right to a jury trial. He may be able to request a jury, but I don't believe the judge has any obligation to grant that request. I believe Kansas may be the only state that guarantees all juvenile defendants the absolute constitutional right to a jury trial. (Go us!)

  3. Me too, as far as I can make of this case, it is another law enforcement hype that they are doing their job.In this case, they are trying to get an easy conviction againsst a minor to protect the public.
    Do I believe an 8 year old can be guilty of premeditated murder?
    Not in the same sense as a 12 year old could be or a 16 year old could be.
    The legal experts who say the boys mental competency could be someday restored to him are gas bags.
    Those who believe in the "bad seed" theory are fantascists.
    An 8 year old who is responsible for a murder is a traumatized kid, but we live in a world of traumatized kids who grow up and live normal lives.
    The human mind can heal itself and deal with reality in a lot of ways.
    Putting this kid in prison and denying him the help he needs is the way to destroy him and make him a bigger problem to be dealt with in the future.

  4. Folks,

    You need to read the book called "The psychopath next door". Seriously.

    About 4 percent of the population doesn't have what we call a conscience...and it can and does show up in child as young as 8.

    I'm not saying the penalty should be the same for an 8 year old as an 18 year old....but the justice system needs to know if there is a "bad seed" capable of murder at 8.

    As far as this case goes, I'm not impressed with the actions of the police. I have extreme doubts about the validity of the case.

  5. Happy New Year to you too, Daisy, and all the rest of the commenters. I've had a great year in 2008; I hope you have too. I'm wishing all of us an even better 2009.

  6. Bob, I should have worded my comment better. I know (from some personal experience) that there are definitely sociopaths out there. What I meant was that I refuse to approach any 8 year-old with even a thought that he could be an irredeemable sociopath. We may come to learn that there really is no redeeming a particular kid, but we shouldn't let that kind of possibility affect how vigorously we try to treat the kid. I don't want to write anyone off as a sociopath at such a young age. I hope that clarifies what I meant.

  7. S,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I wouldn't approach anyone with the thought they were irredeemable but I wouldn't shut out that possibility either.

    I the determination of sociopathy is part of the psych evaluation. What I disagree with is the trend to call anyone or everyone who commits heinous crimes psychologically ill. There is evil in the world, people do evil with full knowledge of what they are doing; it's not illness it's a choice.

    I think too many people want to treat everyone as ill instead of recognizing that choice.

  8. Actually, I believe Jesus would call sinners "sick" -- He is often called the great physician.

    I agree with Bob that some people are evil --but seems they are also sick psychologically because normal, healthy people don't do these things --but that's no excuse for most who choose to do evil from evil impulses, thoughts.

    And I agree with S, too, that an 8 year old shouldn't be categorized as a sociopath --especially if he doesn't really present as one in his demeanor, personality, history, etc.

    I have not studied this story, so forgive me if I'm off the mark about the child. I've met some brats in my day --whose mothers seemed way too lenient and gushy.

    I remember the little boy saying that the men were "in pain" so he shot them --and I wondered if someone put that into his head --the idea of putting people out of their misery when they are already injured. Could the police have planted the idea that maybe HE did it as a humanitarian gesture, as a good thing --getting him to confess that he did this good thing --to end their pain?

  9. Barb, I'd be curious to hear your ideas on the diminished capacity theory we've often debated. I lean very far towards leniency where factors like childhood abuse and/or drug addiction are prevalent. Bob is strongly into accountability for one's actions. What's your position?

  10. Without taking time today to read your past discussions on the topic:

    If you don't hold people accountable --despite their bad backgrounds --if you are lenient, won't they just get out of jail early and continue the anti-social behaviors? Do we not rightly protect society from those with diminished capacity due to drug use and child abuse?

    I do believe that people can really be "converted" spiritually and gain wisdom and self-control from God's Holy Spirit. I've worked with a few women in my lifetime who never really got over their "diminished capacities." They didn't apply Christian principles to their own lives --and so continued their dysfunctional living. Though they may have lived better than they would have otherwise because of their involvement with church and Christians. On the other hand, I've seen people who have overcome the past and gone on to live more or less "godly" lives.

    I think Prison Fellowship, started by Chuck Colson, would attest to the fact that people of "diminished capacity" can really convert and live rightly. Fellows who complete their PF programs have a much lower rescidivism rate than the average ex-prisoner, I hear. Ideally, they are connected to Christian brethren in a church who help to make up for influence and love missed in their upbringing --who provide wholesome friendships instead of drug buddies.

    I love the Law and Order TV program and we often see cases that raise the issue and evoke sympathy for people with bad backgrounds. But truthfully, most criminals DO have bad backgrounds, don't they??? bad influences. To not hold them accountable is to turn them loose on the public.