Explainer: 10-year-old kids can be tried as adults in Wisconsin

- The two Wisconsin teens accused of nearly stabbing their classmate to death in the "slender man" attack will be tried as adults. Questions are now circulating on how these girls, who were 12 years old at the time, can be tried in adult court -- something that would not happen automatically in Minnesota.

Most are unaware that there’s a difference in Wisconsin and Minnesota law when it comes to trying kids as adults. There are two roads for juveniles to get in the adult system: one is discretionary, where the prosecutor has the option to make the argument for certain crimes.  And the other is automatic; the juveniles start in the adult system.

In Minnesota, this only happens when someone is at least 16 years old and they're charged with first-degree murder. But in Wisconsin, they only have to be 10 years old -- it applies to a few types of murder charges including attempted first-degree murder, which the girls are charged with in the "slender man" case.

One of the 12-year-old girls told a detective that she and a friend tried to stab someone to death because of this fictional creation “slender man.” Is this the mind of a child or an adult?

“Oh and there was one thing I forgot to tell you,” she said to the detective. “I kinda made a deal with Slender saying that if I didn't, if we didn't kill, that he would, would either or could kill our families and everything we love. “

According to Jillian Peterson, who studies the minds of criminals at Hamline University, there’s a lot of research that shows decision making and impulse control doesn't really develop until age 25.

“I used to work with men who were on death row in New York and the vast majority of them were really young -- 19,20,21 -- and even at that age you saw there wasn't that level of processing and decision making and impulse control that you would want to see in someone who was facing the death penalty,” Peterson said.  “So when you move that back to age 12, it's hard to see how this is showing adult-level decision making.

But Peterson also said the brutality of the crime and months of planning tilt the scale at least a little bit toward adult.

In the end, the judge seemed very concerned with what the girls would do when they turned 18.

Some are wondering whether the Wisconsin law is appealable -- probably not right now. But the trend by the U.S. Supreme Court has been to recognize more and more that juveniles' minds are very different from adult ones. So over time, we could see some law changes.


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