On November 21, Wisconsin 44-year-old Quiana Mann was killed when her 10-year-old son shot her, apparently in a dispute over a virtual reality headset. While the case is tragic, a strange feature of Wisconsin law is making a terrible situation even worse.
In the state, children as young as 10 charged with certain serious crimes must be charged as adults. This means that Mann's son—at only 10 years old—was charged as an adult in his mother's killing.
According to NBC, the 10-year-old whose name has been withheld from the media, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide in Mann's death. If convinced, the boy faces up to 60 years in prison—notably six times greater than his current age.
This latest case is far from the first time Wisconsin preteens have been charged as an adult in a homicide case. Most recently, a 10-year-old girl was charged as an adult on homicide charges in 2018, after she apparently beat a 6-month-old baby to death. The girl, who had recently been placed in foster care and suffered from PTSD, was eventually ruled incompetent to stand trial.
Higher profile cases, like the 2014 "Slender Man" stabbing, resulted in two girls, who were 12 at the time of the attack, being charged as adults, though both were later found not guilty by mental disease or defect and later sentenced to lengthy confinements in state psychiatric hospitals.
Thankfully, defense lawyers can motion to move cases like this to juvenile court. However, attempts to do so have failed to convince judges even with very young defendants. For example, a 13-year-old girl with a history of trauma and sexual abuse unsuccessfully attempted to move her homicide trial to adult court in 1999. She was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In this most recent case, as with many others, the child at the center of this case clearly needs intensive psychiatric care, not decades in prison. It is obvious that young children who commit terribly violent acts are universally troubled. In this most recent case, the boy's sister claimed in a criminal complaint that he has experienced serious mental health problems for much of his young life. According to NBC, the boy had apparently been given a "concerning diagnosis" by a therapist, and the boy's mother had installed cameras in the home to monitor him.
Charging disturbed children as adults—and possibly sending them to prison for many decades longer than their age when they committed the crime—doesn't make people safer and doesn't provide justice to crime victims. When a young child commits a horrific act of violence, their tender age indicates the need for intensive mental health, not a purely punitive sentence.