University of Southern California

Juvenile Justice: Searching for a Flexible Alternative to the Strict and Over-Inclusive Transfer System for Serious Juvenile Offenders

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Note by Thucvy H. Nguyen
From Volume 90, Number 2 (January, 2017)

Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are two adolescent girls currently in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. While Weier remains in a juvenile detention facility, Geyser spent several months in 2016 in a mental health facility receiving treatment for early-onset schizophrenia. Unlike other children their age, Geyser and Weier have both been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide for stabbing their friend, a girl named Payton Leutner, nineteen times with a kitchen knife and leaving her in the woods to die. At the time of the stabbing, all three girls were twelve years old. A fictional online character, known as Slender Man, served as the motivation behind Geyser and Weier’s attempt to kill their friend, who miraculously survived after crawling out of the woods. Furthermore, unlike most children who are charged with a crime, Geyser and Weier have been charged as adults. Additionally, a trial court judge decided to keep the adolescent girls in the criminal court during a reverse waiver hearing, and consequently their names were released to the public. Videos of the police questioning both girls after their initial arrest are also readily available on media outlets.

This Note examines the experiences of children in the juvenile and criminal justice system with the purpose of finding an alternative to keeping Geyser and Weier in the criminal system. Part I provides a summary of Geyser and Weier’s pending case, which has been pieced together from various news outlets. Part II looks at the development of the juvenile justice system and the transfer system, with an in-depth analysis of the three primary waiver mechanisms. Part II also examines the Wisconsin laws that Geyser and Weier are subject to, and the primary ways in which the juvenile justice system differs from the criminal justice system. Part III describes how the current justice system in America has failed to meet the needs of juvenile offenders. Part IV discusses the reasoning involved in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have treated juvenile offenders differently than adult offenders. Part IV also presents studies that explain why the development of children’s brains provides support for this differential treatment. Part V analyzes various alternatives to the prevailing regime which keeps juvenile offenders in the juvenile justice system or transfers them to the criminal justice system. Lastly, Part V also proposes that blended sentencing, while still an imperfect solution, is the best alternative to automatically subjecting juveniles who commit violent offenses to the criminal justice system. With respect to Anissa Weier, blended sentencing would be the best alternative, because her situation could be reevaluated once she reaches the upper age limit of juvenile court jurisdiction. In the case of Morgan Geyser, under a blended sentencing regime, she could be transferred to the mental health courts and placed in a mental health facility within a designated children’s ward to receive treatment for schizophrenia, as both the juvenile and criminal justice systems are ill-equipped to house juvenile offenders with serious mental illnesses.

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