I thought it might be interesting to share a little on how that works, as this kind of hearing is not something I've done before. (There are several news stories about this particular case, here is one and here is another.)
First, the legal standard: for a juvenile to be transferred to adult court for trial, the judge must find that (to save on ink I'm going to use "he" in hypos etc.) he committed the charged offense, with the standard of proof being "probable cause" as opposed to the usual trial standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt." As you may know, the probable cause standard is a lot lower, and is the one police officers use to arrest someone they suspect of having committed a crime.
Additionally, the judge must consider the following factors:
- whether the crime was against persons or property;
- the previous history of the juvenile;
- the sophistication and maturity of the juvenile;
- prospects of rehabilitation; and
- the safety of the community
So, how does the prosecution go about proving that a juvenile should be certified as an adult?
One invaluable tool is the testimony of a forensic psychologist. In our case, as in all, the shrink (sorry, I can't keep typing out "forensic psychologist") interviews the juvenile and digs into their background to give the court insight in to #s 3. , 4. and 5. above (rehabilitation and community safety are obviously closely related). It's important, obviously, that the shrink it not a paid lackey of either side, but is objective and thorough. That's certainly been my (limited!) experience.
One thing that surprised me about the way this psychological evaluation is carried out, though it makes perfect sense, is that the shrink does not consider as part of his analysis any facts about the offense charged. In other words, he makes his findings and recommendations based on factors outside the alleged crime.
The first and second factors are established very quickly, of course. The judge will know going in whether it's a burglary or a murder (in our case, allegations included murder and the attempted murder of another kid). And of course the formal criminal history of a juvenile is a matter of record.
One other thought on the process, because I've seen comments in the past that it seems disingenuous to have a rule saying "a child is a child unless we say otherwise." And that sounds like an eminently fair criticism at first blush. But going through the process made me see that, in a perfect world, we'd abandon the hard-and-fast rule that says you're an adult at age 17 and instead thrash out this issue for every child, especially those charged with serious crimes. The slow, often painstaking analysis of a kid's attitude, mentality, remorse, maturity, etc. via probation officers and forensic psychologists seems like a much better (fairer even?) way than a fairly abstract date.
But wow, that would be impossible unless you all want to become forensic psychologists. Although I'm sure they get paid pretty well. . .