Cover Story: Juvenile Crime Treated Differently

By: Laurabree Austin Email
By: Laurabree Austin Email

Within the last week in Charleston a teenager, Leland Chase Miller was killed on the east end.

In this case, the victim was just 17 years old and the suspect accused in his murder is only 16.

We’ve seen teens make life and death decisions time and time again, but on the road to justice, kids and teens are treated differently. Their identity is protected among other things, but some say they need to be treated like adults right off the bat.

When a minor is arrested, their identity is protected, even in television, we don't show a minor's face, until they're charged as an adult.

“There’s no reason to protect the identity of the person who did it. I don't care if they're 14, 15, 16 or 60 the people we're supposed to be protecting are the victims, not the criminals,” attorney and Charleston City Council Harry Deitzler said.

“I don't know how much of a deterrent it would be, I mean some states have the death penalty and they still have high murder rates, I don't know. I just think it would make it a lot easier for law enforcement,” Charleston Police Dept. Chief Brent Webster said.

Identity is one thing, but Harry Deitzler a former prosecutor and current Charleston city council member says there's much more to it.

“There are steps to get the case from juvenile jurisdiction to adult, it requires notice and that sort of thing but what I’m saying is you shouldn't have to take those steps in the case of robberies murders and crimes of violence. They should automatically be in the adult system like they could be prior to 1975,” Harry Deitzler said.

“I think we're living in a different day and time. Back in the 70's, when a juvenile committed a murder it a big deal. Well now we're living in a time when just random violence is a way of life,” Delegate Nancy Guthrie (D) said.

When 16 year old William Bumpess admitted to pulling the trigger and killing Joshua Boggess last year-- he was sentenced to life with mercy. He was tried as an adult, but when he turns 18, he will go before a parole board and have his sentence re-evaluated.

“This is a legislative decision. This is a problem that can be solved today,” Harry Deitzler said.

We spoke with delegate Carrie Webster, the House Judiciary Chair, and she says more and more juveniles are being transferred to adult status. Adding often they do prison time, but she also believes when you're dealing with young people it is more important to try rehabilitation.

Now as far as protecting a minor’s identity, she says the more she's considered the issue, the more she believes discloser laws should be expanded. That's something she is looking to take up legislators return to Charleston.

Chief Brent Webster says there are times juveniles will come into the city with lengthy records, but because they are juvenile they're protected-- and police often can't get to the information they need.

If the laws were changed, he says it would help law enforcement.

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