A 9-Year-Old Has Been Charged with Murder After A House Fire Killed Five of His Relatives. Juvenile Justice Advocates Say The Charge Is 'Unusual' and 'Wholly Inappropriate.'

Kelly McLaughlin, insider.com •

Riya Saha Shah, managing director at Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, told Insider that in Illinois there is no lower age limit for criminal responsibility. Still, in most cases, young children are provided alternative programming instead of being charged in the criminal system.

"There is certainly a question of his competency to even go to trial given his age, any indication of disability, and inexperience with the legal system. It is unsurprising that he didn't understand what he was accused of," she said. "Brain science and cognitive development research supports that he is unable to make a reasoned, informed decision that weighs all the future consequences. Research shows us that because youths' brains are not fully developed until well into their 20s, they are more prone to impetuous decision-making and risk-taking."

Shah told Insider that in states where there is no lower age limit, prosecutors are "given broad discretion on how to apply the law."

She cited US Supreme Court rulings over the last 15 years that say the approach to children should "look different" than adults.

"It is wholly inappropriate to charge a nine-year-old boy with murder," she said.

About the Expert
Riya leads the organization’s work on juvenile record confidentiality and expungement. She has written extensively on collateral consequences, expungement, and the right to counsel, and was instrumental in Pennsylvania’s successful challenge to the imposition of harsh registration laws for youth charged with sexual offenses.