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Defense argues Cedar Rapids murder case belongs in juvenile court

One of the toughest questions an Iowa judge can face is whether a juvenile charged with a violent crime should be tried as an adult. The issue arose recently in the case of a 16-year old Cedar Rapids youth who is facing first-degree murder charges.

A juvenile court officer has recommended against transferring the young man's case to juvenile court. According to the court officer, the defendant would not have enough time to be rehabilitated because as a juvenile, he would be released when he turned 18. The defendant's lawyer argued the case belonged in juvenile court, noting that the defendant was charged just two weeks after his 16th birthday. The judge has taken the matter under advisement.

The case arose out of a brawl in the middle of a Cedar Rapids street in March. A dozen or so people, including both juveniles and adults, were fighting in the middle of the street. The defendant allegedly retrieved a gun from a vehicle and fired several shots. Two people were hit -- a 21-year-old man died and a 16-year-old juvenile was wounded. In addition to first-degree murder, the defendant was charged with attempted murder, intimidation with a dangerous weapon and willful injury.

As we discussed in a recent post, the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender was unconstitutional. That decision acknowledged the inherent unfairness of rigidly applying adult standards to juveniles. The purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, not punishment. When a juvenile is charged with a serious crime, keeping the case out of the adult criminal justice system is a high priority for the defense.

Source: Cedar Rapids Gazette, "16-year-old seeks to have murder case moved back to juvenile court," Trish Mehaffey, July 8, 2016

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