Children and Homicide: A Tough Call

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Last week, Sixty Minutes aired a segment on the murder of neo-Nazi leader Jeffrey Hall.  I hadn’t heard about the incident, which occurred last May, and was shocked to hear that Jeffrey Hall’s ten year old son was the alleged murderer.  This case brings up many issues about juvenile sentencing, child abuse, and children’s mental health.  Hall was the regional director for the National Socialist Movement, whose modern day political stances include strong anti-immigrant sentiments.  According to Sixty Minutes, Hall hosted meetings for the group in his home while his children, including his son, roamed about and brought his son along to patrol (with guns) the U.S./Mexico border for individuals attempting to cross the border.  Apparently one night after the family watched a movie and went to bed, Hall fell asleep on his couch.  His young son allegedly put a gun to his father’s head and shot him dead while he was sleeping.

The facts of this case are shocking and disturbing, but they also bring light to the importance of the juvenile justice system.  California’s juvenile justice system, as do many similar systems in other states, aim to not only protect the public from unsafe acts, but also to treat and rehabilitate the young offenders who are charged and adjudicated for crimes.  Children are viewed as not as culpable for their acts because their brains are not fully developed, and they are not necessarily capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. That premise is tough when matched with the facts of Hall’s murder: his son allegedly picked up the gun (that his father taught him to shoot), put it straight to his father’s head and pulled the trigger.  He may not have understood the consequences of his actions, but it would be hard to argue that he did not mean to pull the trigger.  Regardless, with only ten years under his belt, he has yet to hit his most formative years. And not to be disregarded in this case is the alleged physical abuse of Hall’s son, potential mental health issues, and a home environment that seems to encourage hate and violence.

Hall’s son is currently in juvenile detention and awaits his adjudication.  His defense attorney has stated that he might plead a defense of insanity.  In some states, however, youth can be tried as adults for certain crimes.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, however, children may not be given the death penalty even if they are tried in adult court.

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