INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Indiana Senate, led by overwhelming republican support, endorsed an amendment to a House bill to lower the age that a judge may approve sending attempted murder suspects to be tried in criminal court.
The current minimum age to be tried for attempted murder in an adult court is 14-years-old. The amendment offered by Sen. Erin Houchin of Salem would lower the waiver age to 12.
“This is not something that is going to be used in a widespread manner and infringe upon certain demographics,” said Houchin. “We’re simply giving the court an option to charge a juvenile who has tried to commit murder, just not succeeded, in the adult system.”
Senate democrats disagreed.
“If you think that there is a child who is twelve years old, some of them may be standing on a wall today paging for us,” said Senator Greg Taylor of Indianapolis as he pointed out the student pages in the senate chamber witnessing the debate, “that should be in adult court, you are wrong.”
Houchin admitted last spring’s shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, which resulted in a 13-year-old boy admitting he wounded a teacher and a classmate, encouraged her to seek the waiver to send younger children into the adult court and potentially state prison system.
“If the juvenile in the Noblesville shooting had been 14, he could have been waived,” she said. “Because he was 13, our code did not allow any waiver whatsoever. Didn’t even offer the court the discretion to choose whether or not that would be in the child’s best interest or in the best interest in the safety of the community because the juvenile was 13.”
Both Taylor and Houchin admitted they did not know the Noblesville youth was committed to the state’s juvenile correction system last December to serve his term possibly until the age of 18.
Opponents of the bill’s amendment lobbied lawmakers in the hallways outside the chamber for hours in an attempt to ward off the waiver.
“In the early teen years, they’re actually tweens when they are between the ages of 12 and 13, there’s a lot of brain growth going on and services can make a huge difference,” said JauNae Hanger of the Children’s Policy & Law Initiative of Indiana, “but if we put them in the adult system, they’re gonna be in an adult facility for six months to two years, where a child is captive before they’re actually convicted and what will happen is they will be put in isolation and that will have its own physiological and psychological impact for that child where it’s gonna create a greater public safety risk when they are released from prison.”
Under special circumstances, children as young as 10 can be charged with murder in Indiana.
From July 1, 2017, until June 30, 2018, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute found nine children in Indiana were directly charged with murder and five with attempted murder.
There were no murder or attempted murder waivers of younger children during that time.
As the state’s largest county, Marion County had the most direct files of criminal charges against juveniles with 69 and the highest number of juveniles waived to adult court with nine.
The amended senate bill will return to the chamber for one last reading before being sent to the House.