Courts & Crime

Protests target Idaho's rule on trying juveniles as adults

BOISE, Idaho — It started with a 14-year-old Caldwell murder suspect and a handful of local protesters.

Now advocates want to launch a statewide push to eliminate Idaho's mandate that anyone 14 or older must be tried as an adult if charged with murder or certain other serious crimes.

A rally is planned in Boise on Tuesday afternoon, and a Nampa man is urging lawmakers to take a hard look at studies that indicate adult prosecution is not a productive way to get tough on juvenile crime.

University of Idaho professor Eric Jensen, who has studied juvenile justice issues for more than 30 years, agrees.

Jensen says judges, not lawmakers, should determine whether an underage offender should be tried as an adult. State law should establish clear criteria - such as age, severity of the crime and criminal history - to determine when a minor can be legally treated as an adult rather than automatically being routed into the adult system, he said.

Idaho's judges do have discretion to send many teens convicted as adults to juvenile detention rather than an adult prison, but that option - called blended sentencing - cannot be used for teens convicted of murder or treason. Jensen supports blended sentencing but believes there should be no exceptions, he said.

"I think kids are not fully cognitively developed, and we have to take that into account," he said Friday. "The mens rea ('guilty mind' in Latin) issue is huge here."

Nampa advocate Dennis "Kelly" Christensen made a similar argument in a July letter to Idaho lawmakers.

"Children ... are impulsive and do not think about the far-reaching consequences of their actions, only the immediate result, such as make it stop," Christensen wrote. "All of which are reasons why they are not able to vote, enter into a binding contract and a host of other things. So how can this hypocritical double standard possibly make sense?"

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