No Matter the Alleged Crime, A 14 Year Old Kid Is Still A Kid

Kearie Brown is charged with felony murder in Kansas City. She allegedly shot a 16-year-old in the head as he tried to drive away from a carjacking. Kearie was 13 at the time.

Understandably, the victim's father finds it difficult to wrap his head around the accusation that a 13-year-old girl killed his son.

"It's hard to even begin to know how to feel about it. I can't hate a child," said [Scott] Sappington Sr.

At 14, Kearie is indeed a child. But when she goes to court she'll be tried as if she were an adult. It is as if the juvenile justice system hates children. [more ...]

Three or four decades ago, a juvenile justice "reform" philosophy took hold in state legislatures that were increasingly dominated by "tough on crime" politicians. With scant evidence to support their views, legislators loudly proclaimed that the rehabilitative approach to juvenile justice was sending the wrong message by sparing the rod. The "reforms" emphasized punishment over rehabilitation. A particularly popular law allowed (or required) children who committed serious or repeated crimes to be charged, tried, and punished as adults. Juveniles (sometimes as young as 12) were to be waived to adult court if they were "like adults" or committed "adult crimes" or couldn't be adequately punished or rehabilitated in juvenile detention before reaching the age at which state law required their release.

At the time, it was clear to the clear-headed that waiving a child into adult court did not turn the child into an adult. In the years that followed, research into adolescent brain development revealed that

young people’s brains are not fully developed until they reach their early twenties. As a result, children lack the capacity for adult level reasoning or a full realization of the consequences of their actions.

Brain research "confirm[s] what we have always known: kids are different." The research should convince fair-minded people that it is unfair to impute adult culpability to children whose brains have not fully developed the capacity to reason and plan.

Unfortunately, fair-minded reform has not reached the Kansas court that will subject 14-year-old Keaire Brown (who, according to her lawyer, is troubled by mental illness in addition to immaturity) to the risks associated with an adult prosecution.

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    madness (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by txpublicdefender on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 10:19:25 PM EST
    And yet, if this child chose to have sex with an 18-year-old, that 18-year-old would be prosecuted for child rape because she is "incapable" of consenting to sex.  

    A "third way" is needed (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 08:11:46 AM EST
      Very few children  possess "adult level" reasoning ability (of course neither do many chronolgical adults who don't meet standards for "diminished capacity defenses let alone "insanity). We really don't need "studies" to know that. that's hardly the end of the question though, it just begs the question of what to do with those children whose conduct clearly establishes their danger to society.

      Children above the very young (unless mentally ill or developmentally disabled) are obviously quite capable of understanding that murder is wrong and also what the consequences are of, for instance, shooting someone in the head. It's absurd to suggest most 13 year olds can't reason at that level.

      Minors  who commit certain crimes do in many cases need to  be in a regime that can retain jurisdiction over them (and keep them confined in some cases and under supervision in many others) beyond the arbitrary age of 21. That regime however need not be the adult judicial and penal systems.

      We need specialized court jurisdiction and, detention/rehabilitation facilities  and supervision forms to specifically address the relatively small number of teenagers for whom the standard juvenile system is not adequate, so there is areasonable alternative to trying children as adults.

    Mental hospital would do (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jen M on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 08:55:05 AM EST
    But then again, I think no sane person ever murders a person. Certainly no sane 13 year old does.

    this country (none / 0) (#14)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 09:02:51 AM EST
     doesn't provide anything close to adequate mental health treatment for people who have done nothing wrong.

      Changing subjects,  I'm not sure what your definition of "sane" might be but unless it is a complete tautology, sane people have committed a great many murders.


    I know (none / 0) (#16)
    by Jen M on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 09:35:02 AM EST
    Sane people do.

    It's just me. They kill in cold blood so I really don't feel comfortable with the idea that they are sane.


    The third way is to take it on a case by case... (none / 0) (#36)
    by nyjets on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 07:44:25 PM EST
    In some cases the person should not be treated like an adult. In other cases they should be treated like an adult. It depends on two thing:
    1. THe person himelf//herself. Some people that age are beyond hope. Others are not.
    2. The crime itself. A simple stealing of a car, or minor cases of burglary does leave open the possilbity of reform. Some crimes, like the crime mentioned above merits serious jail time. I a child commits murder, unless there are some mitgating factors (he or she is not the trigger person, the person may have gotten over his or here head ie wrong place wrong time, the person is striking back against an abuser. )
    BUt if the only mitgating factor is age, for some crimes that is NOT and should not be enough.

    No, that's (none / 0) (#40)
    by Bemused on Fri May 01, 2009 at 07:14:15 AM EST
     the current way. Juveniles are transferred to adult jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis, and transfer only is allowed for certain offenses.

      The problem is because we have only two options the focus is, understandably, more on whether the current juvenile system is adequate to handle the child in light of what he is accused of doing and once it is decided it is not the only option is the adult system.

      We need a system that provides an option other than transfer to adult jurisdiction for kids not suited for the current juvenile system.



    I know what you are saying (none / 0) (#42)
    by nyjets on Fri May 01, 2009 at 09:25:23 AM EST
    You do make a valid point. I had not though of that.
    If nothing else, it would make it easier to incarciate someone for a longer time while not necessary puting them in an adult prison.
    There are probable youth in that category. Espically for those crimes where a long term is necessary but life in prison would be unnecessary.

    Knowing muder is wrong is not the issue (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Stu on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 08:58:25 AM EST
    I work with high schoolers and from my experience, the problem is not that the accused didn't know that murder is wrong; the problem is that she doesn't understand the likely consequences of her actions. In this case, she most likely only foresaw the outcome that she wanted (a successful carjacking), and never anticipated what could happen if the carjacking went wrong (murder). That's not a moral failing, that's a cognitive failing, and it is, unfortunately, perfectly normal at that age. That's why you can't treat children the same as adults.

    Yes! (none / 0) (#33)
    by hairspray on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:38:56 PM EST
    Anyone who understands growth and development understands or should, why kids at this age get pregnant, not realizing the act has its consequences.  Many kids even with good parenting have very little sense of caution and put themselves into very risky situations.  Like all things there are levels of risk and behavior that signal more serious psychopathic or sociopathic behavior and this girl may fall into that area where she should not be treated as an adult nor should she be automatically seen as "outgrowing this kind of behavior" in 7 years. I hope the system deals with her in a way that helps her if it is possible and protects society as well.

    The problem (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by jefered on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 10:39:56 AM EST
    Arguing that this crime is a problem of cognition innate and unavoidable in all teenagers falls far short of addressing why this is something that a miniscule number of teens are guilty of.

    There is something substantially more wrong with child killers than just adolescent angst and confusion.

    Circumstances are the (none / 0) (#43)
    by JamesTX on Fri May 01, 2009 at 11:58:52 PM EST
    way it can be understood. The reason the law as a whole doesn't provide justice is that it views extreme behavior as originating almost entirely within the offender, discounts environmental influences, and, worse than that, one of the most important determinants of extreme behavior -- chance alone. Legal reasoning makes broad and sweeping generalizations and attributions about dispositional characteristics of the individual which are assumed to underlie and explain extreme behavior. But human behavior is almost incomprehensibly complex and unpredictable. Saying that because most kids don't do these things, therefore something is terribly different and flawed in this one kid, is to ignore the enormous role of chance. The other error is that the emotional and cognitive situation the kid was in is easily comparable to others or could be compared to others, with the conclusion that others wouldn't have done it under the same life circumstances. Those are not mild, but completely wild, speculations. Nonetheless, I realize they appear to be perfectly rational assumptions to most people. It is important to remember that way of thinking is a convention, not an explanation.

    On the whole, there is a rule in the cosmos that seems more reliable than many other rules. The rule is that chance delivers up a very few extreme events quite reliably, out of a large majority of less extreme events. I venture for you to consider a thought experiment. Perhaps, let's say, the clock could be rewound and some minor change made in history leading up to the time and place this event occurred. I think it is quite likely the kid might not have done it (due to a minor change in circumstances, a momentary delay in thought processes, or a slight difference in emotional state, etc.). What I do believe, though, is that under those new historical circumstances (from our little clock rewind), some other totally unrelated kid probably would have done something just as extreme within the same time frame. We place a lot more confidence in individual volition as the explanation of crime than is usually justified. This is especially true for kids, because their behavior is much more random. I am not talking about absolutes here that apply to all cases at all times, but the role of chance is generally ignored beyond what is justified.

    There surely are people who do have a disposition to do extreme things. They will eventually be stopped because their history will demand it. But isolated acts, no matter how extreme and repulsive, have a lot more chance underlying them than our culture allows us to consider, because our culture is obsessed with mechanistic explanation of human behavior. Our system is also built on treating people who have committed isolated extreme acts much differently from others (by convicting them, treating them radically different from others for the duration of their lives, and limiting their life chances for self actualization and fulfillment), which can only be expected to foster and increase the probability that they will behave antisocially in the future due to frustration.


    That is true (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 12:48:00 PM EST
     but the system imposed on the people working within it can have structural flaws all the talented and dedicated people in the world can't make go away.

      A system which contains no middle ground between losing jurisdiction over a very dangerous person  after an arbitrary and in some cases quite short period of time and transferring that minor to the adult jurisdiction intended for punishing adults needs changed.

      Treating children as children and securing the safety of the community could both be better accomplished.

      Certainly there are compelling cases supporting the position it would be irresponsible to simply have someone walk away unsupervised simply because of a bitrthday being reached but that doesn't mean the only way to prevent that is trying children as adults.

    Perhaps the saddest (5.00 / 2) (#22)
    by JamesTX on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 02:11:20 PM EST
    legacy of the conservative movement is the drive to punish children as adults. Most of the things conservatives have done make me angry. This is so incredibly evil and inhuman that I really can't describe the emotion as anger. These people must go. All of them. And all of their philosophies and deleted from history.

    sad liberal legacy (none / 0) (#23)
    by diogenes on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 02:57:00 PM EST
    The sad liberal legacy is to release all juvies at age 21 regardless of risk level.  If the system allowed a juvie to have to "earn" out of the system at 21, 31, etc, then maybe a special juvie track would make sense.

    Well, we let... (none / 0) (#26)
    by sj on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 03:25:50 PM EST
    ...fools out in society regardless of the risk level inherent in their inability to reason.  Some of them are out there making laws and everything.  There is no such thing as a risk-free society.  



    That's part of what I mean by a third way (none / 0) (#27)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 03:35:25 PM EST
      I don't think anyone truly believes that if a person, say 17 years old and 11 months goes on a killing spree there should be no alternative beyond juvenile detention until 21 regardless of his socialization and rehabiitation failures during that short period of time. Anyone who would say that isn't going to be accorded much weight in any debate.

      On the other hand, having the only alternative as transfer to adult supervision, in cases involving younger children and/or less serious offenses than cold-blooded mass murder is unreasonable as well. With the only possible outcome being a very long sentence or even life w/o or the death penalty,  the only variable changed by the fact the offender is a child is where the person is housed until reaching 18. This fails to account for the possibility that even a child who has committed a very serious crime may be redeemable and "solutions" short of adult punishment will safeguard public safety.

      We could have  a system where youthful offenders (and I might advocate not making  age of legal majority the only criteria for eligibility but rather allow for young adults shown to be developmentally immature, etc.) were placed in a system "between" the juvenile and adult systems. This system would be focused on rehabilitation and allow for indefinite sentences  (not to exceed ever the statutory maximum for the adult offense and limited at the commencement by a term imposed by the court) to facilities established for the purpose of handling this specific class of offender. Then the court could be allowed to retain jurisdiction well into adulthood with periodic review hearings by the court to determine if alternative placement (either to less restrictive facilities  or to home with court supervision for those showing improvvement or to adult facilities for those failing to progress).



    There are no (none / 0) (#34)
    by JamesTX on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 07:15:01 PM EST
    liberal legacies. Anything resulting from liberal social attitudes has been entirely abolished and completely reversed for at least a decade, and probably two, as anyone old enough to remember knows. Nothing remains of any liberal influence on the criminal justice system whatsoever. Absolutely nothing. As usual, the conservative position is that protection from rare and hypothetical risks is more important than human rights, such as hypothetical 17-year-11-month-old serial killers, when the usual situation is draconian lifelong consequences for teenagers whose youthful indiscretions are no more serious than those of George Bush.

    wow (none / 0) (#39)
    by Bemused on Fri May 01, 2009 at 07:05:32 AM EST
      that's pretty remarkable that you take my post suggesting reform is needed in how we treat certain child offenders and claim it is  defense of or minimiization of the conduct of a former President.

      Remarkable in the sense that it is so illogical and ridiculous it undermines anyhting you might say even more than the ridiculous statement that nothing remains of any liberal influence on the criminal justice system whatsoever.

      You might be better served by actually stating what you believe a better policy would be (as I have done) and why you think it would be better. If you can't do that just not saying anything would probably be your better move.


    The response really (none / 0) (#44)
    by JamesTX on Sat May 02, 2009 at 12:07:57 AM EST
    wasn't directed to you (note the position). I did, though, quote you without citing you, primarily because the example of the 17 year-old killer was what I feel is a good example of conservatives emphasizing risk and exploiting the natural cognitive biases we have been shown to have for risk aversion. Small risks frequently don't justify the damage we do to avoid them. There was really no intention of saying that you were that way, or even that you were anything at all.

    At any rate, my sincere apologies if I personally offended you. I will never apologize for holding a progressive or liberal view on criminal justice, though, nor will I stop saying what is wrong with the system or what I believe.

    You are perfectly free to ignore me.


    Regarding my statement (none / 0) (#45)
    by JamesTX on Sat May 02, 2009 at 12:28:41 AM EST
    that nothing remains of liberal influence, this explanation of a common rhetorical device might help you understand: Explanation of Hyperbole

    fair enough (none / 0) (#46)
    by Bemused on Sat May 02, 2009 at 06:48:52 AM EST
      I wasn't asking for a personal apology, but I will accept it in the spirit offered, I really was just suggesting to you that when you have certain views there are much better ways to persuasively express them than by acusing people with only slightly different views than you of having bad motives, being supportive of positins or people they are not, and employing "hyperbole" in a fashion which ignores reality.

    As I said, (none / 0) (#47)
    by JamesTX on Sat May 02, 2009 at 11:19:30 AM EST
    I wasn't "accusing" you of anything. I wasn't even responding to you, or thinking about you. My words were at a very abstract level about common political opinions and common political characters.

    I am no longer attempting to "persuade" anybody of anything. The conservative movement is collapsing on itself, and it will not take long before the public begins to pick the meat off of the bare bones of its flawed assumptions about human nature. There is no need to argue against conservatives. The current state of the society is the best argument against them, and everyone is starting to get it.

    If my hyperbole about liberal legacies is so ridiculous, I would like to hear about some of these important liberal legacies in criminal justice. I really just can't seem to find much in that area that was not neutralized by the conservative movement of the last thirty years. Any liberal legacies in criminal justice are symbolic more than practical, and the ideas themselves (such as probable cause, presumption of innocence, prohibition of entrapment, prohibition of cruel treatment, etc.) have been turned into mockeries and have been continuously publicly tarred and feathered over the last few decades by conservatives -- they have been made to look like bad ideas, not the good things they are. More emphasis has been placed on how to derail them and circumvent them than on the important role they play in justice. I am truly having difficulty finding these liberal legacies. Of course, to the unrepentant conservative (not you!), I realize anything short of summary administrative justice applied by an arbitrary conservative authority is "liberal".


    So I guess (none / 0) (#41)
    by jbindc on Fri May 01, 2009 at 08:32:13 AM EST
    Dylan Klebold, had he not committed suicide, should have be tried as a juvenile in the Columbine massacres because he wasn't 18, therefore, his brain was not fully developed?

    The crime is the most important thing (1.00 / 1) (#11)
    by nyjets on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 08:24:38 AM EST
    She murdered a person while he was trying to run away. If she was an adult, a long sentence would not even be in question.
    If the only 'mitigating factor' for a crime is age, that is not good enough.
    She should be treated as an adult for what she did. IF you do not, the victim does not get justice, and you put other people lives in danger.

    I don't know (none / 0) (#37)
    by TChris on Fri May 01, 2009 at 12:46:19 AM EST
    if anything can give "justice" to a deceased victim.  I do know that pretending a child is as culpable and as morally responsible as an adult gives no justice to anyone.

    I disagree (none / 0) (#38)
    by nyjets on Fri May 01, 2009 at 06:58:35 AM EST
    Punishing a murder does bring justice to the victim and for society. Whether the murder is 16 or 56 IMO does not change this.

    An adult allowed this child access to a gun ... (none / 0) (#2)
    by cymro on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 10:27:48 PM EST
    Wouldn't that make them an accessory to any crime committed using it?

    Will the "juvenile" be mature by 21? (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 11:00:02 PM EST
    If tried as a juvenile, this woman will be released by age 21.  Anyone with the moral depravity to not only carjack a car but shoot a 16 year old in the face will not likely find a conscience by the age of 21.  If that is true, however, then there is no second chance, and she will be released into the general population.
    Juvenile crimes are for things stupid kids do. Things like shoplifting, vandalism, and (maybe) carjacking.  Cold-bloodedly shooting someone in the head doesn't qualify.
    If this 14 year old is really "mentally ill" then maybe her lawyer can get her off as not guilty by reason of insanity.

    how the heck do you know that? (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by txpublicdefender on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 01:20:03 AM EST
    First of all, how is it that you KNOW that this person doesn't have a conscience now?  And on what do you base your assertion that this child, with 7 years of education, treatment, therapy, etc., won't have a conscience?  

    Give me a break.


    Because diogenes (none / 0) (#17)
    by sj on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 09:49:58 AM EST
    doesn't have a conscience and assumes no one does.  This lack of conscience goes hand in hand with diogenes' total lack of compassion and understanding of human nature.  I know that with as much absolute certainty as s/he knows this child has no conscience.

    no--it's cynicism (none / 0) (#24)
    by diogenes on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 03:03:30 PM EST
    This woman cold-bloodedly shot a fleeing man who was in a car during a carjacking.  Most teenagers do not point guns at other persons' heads and shoot them except maybe in a gang war context.    

    wrong (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by sj on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 03:15:27 PM EST
    You're wrong from your second word.  A 14 year old female is a girl.  Not a woman.  A girl child.

    Lets be fair..... (none / 0) (#28)
    by coast on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 03:55:30 PM EST
    "fleeing man"....A 16 yr old male is a boy.  Not a man.  A boy child who was doing nothing more than driving a car and who will not get any further opportunities in life because of the choices made by this "girl child".

    Agreed (none / 0) (#29)
    by sj on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:09:51 PM EST
    The 16 year old male was a boy.  Not a man.  

    I notice that you didn't bother putting that in quotes as you did with "girl child".  Why is that?


    i'd guess (none / 0) (#30)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:17:53 PM EST
      because was quoting you with he phrase "girl child" but "boy child" was his original usage.

    Correct (none / 0) (#31)
    by coast on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:24:04 PM EST
    But if that is incorrect use of " " marks I'll be the first to admit that I butcher the English language.  I guess that is why I'm in a profession that relies more on numbers than words.  I'll leave the wordsmithing to Steve M and others.

    Okay, thanks (none / 0) (#32)
    by sj on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:04:43 PM EST
    It's a perfectly good usage of quotation marks.  But it could also be read as cynicism or mockery.  Glad I asked for clarification :)

    The "juvenile" (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by jondee on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 01:09:16 PM EST
    has much more excuse than the scum (and I do mean scum), who sit in offices and calculate collateral casualties before embarking on unnecessary military interventions.

    Apparently a couple of people here never heard of the age of reason -- more than likely because they havnt arrived at it yet themselves.


    Interesting, since in Seattle recently (none / 0) (#4)
    by imhotep on Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 11:30:33 PM EST
    two juveniles who admitted to beating and killing a man were sentenced to 72 weeks in juvie detention.

    Which wasn't even close to justice (none / 0) (#5)
    by shoephone on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 12:42:36 AM EST
    for what they did to Ed the Tuba Man.

    How (none / 0) (#7)
    by lentinel on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:24:19 AM EST
    How did she get the gun?

    It's probably not possible (none / 0) (#8)
    by Mikeb302000 on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:33:44 AM EST
    but if I were the judge, I'd what to look at her parents, older siblings and older friends. For me, some or all of them share in the responsibility.

    The victim's father is a better man than (none / 0) (#9)
    by coast on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 06:55:27 AM EST
    I am.  Anyone who purposefully takes either of my children away from me in a manner such as this, I could easily find contempt.

    the only consequences she likely didn't understand (none / 0) (#15)
    by Bemused on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 09:06:39 AM EST
     are those for her after being caught.

      As for her supposed inability to forsee the possibility she might shoot someone in the head with the gun she was carrying, even were that true the real issue is whether she could forsee the result of aiming the gun and shooting the person. You act as if the gun just shot itself without her intervention.