Thursday, May 17, 2007

Life in prison for a crime committed when you're 13 years old

Can a typical 13 year old really fully understand the consequences of his actions?

Tyler Edmonds Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the conviction of Tyler Edmonds for a murder that occured when he was 13. He had confesed by later recanted.

His appeal was based on a claim of an unfair trial. A number of points related to expert testimony were raised.

Basically the trial judge didn't allow the defense to put on experts on false confessions but did allow the the prosecution to put on an expert pathologist who isn't even a pathologist and is clearly an incompetent boob (that part was clear to at least one member of the Mississippi Supreme Court).

The prosecution expert actually was allowed to testify that he could determine that two people held the gun as it was fired by a simple examination of the bullet wound. I don't know where they get juries in Mississippi, but hearing that kind of nonsense as evidence should have been enough for an immediate not guilty verdict.

There were also some severe procedural problems with the way the confession was extracted by police in violation of some specific laws Mississippi has about the interrogation of juviniles.

The whole thing was a mess.

Radley Balko of Reason has some history with the prosecutions claimed pathologists from another case and he has a good write up of this case.

My concern isn't so much with the unfair trial as with the whole idea of treating a crime committed by a 13 year old as a trial committed by an adult.

That's just absurd. I realize that the law in the US does allow it. But that doesn't mean the law makes any sense at all or has any moral authority at all. There is something wrong with us as a country, as a people, when we allow the kind of fiction that says a 13 year old has the mental capacity of an adult simply because we think he might have done something terrible. It's just wrong and we're wrong for tolerating it.

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