Senate committee waters down juvenile waiver bill

Politics
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A state senate bill proposed in the wake of the Noblesville West Middle School shootings has passed out of a committee but was watered down as senators recognized the struggle Indiana courts, parents and police have in addressing juvenile crime.

Senator Erin Houchin -- a Republican from Salem -- for the second year in a row introduced a bill that would have lowered the age a child could be charged with attempted murder to 12-years-old.

“Senate Bill 449 would allow court proceedings for juveniles charged with murder or attempted murder to be waived to adult court if the child is at least 12-years-old,” Houchin told the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law. “Proceedings may remain in juvenile court under circumstances if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child and the safety of the community to do so.”

In May of 2018, a 13-year-old boy shot a classmate and a teacher in Noblesville.

Both victims survived.

Houchin said she was frustrated to learn that since the child had not yet reached the age of 14, he could not be charged with attempted murder.

The boy confessed to the shootings and was ordered into a state juvenile detention facility until he turns 18.

Houchin said one of the child’s victims fears that upon his release, even though he had received treatment, the boy may continue to stalk her.

Judge Marilyn Moores of the Marion County Juvenile Division testified that many young teen and pre-teen offenders lack the cognitive brain development to understand their actions and ramifications let alone the criminal case proceedings.

“This bill would tag the most vulnerable and the most rehabilitatable,” Moores told the senators. “The older kids get, the less elastic their brains are. Kids truly are different.”

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During two hours of sometimes heated testimony and debate, Senator Michael Young -- the ranking Republican from Speedway -- sought to strike a compromise with Houchin and the dozens of opponents who spoke out against the bill.

On a 4-2 vote to approve the bill and send it on to the Senate, the committee moved to strike the attempted murder section from the legislation, raise the age for a child to be charged with murder to 13-years-old and called for a disparity study committee to examine the rate at which children of color are waived over to criminal court.

Senator Jack Sandlin -- Republican from Perry Township -- acknowledged his unease with the bill but said he was moving it forward so that the entire Senate and House may take up the examination of parts of Indiana’s juvenile justice system.

The bill now passes to the Senate, where it may undergo its third hearing next week and be amended for possible House consideration or defeated.

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