The robbery of cell phones is certainly not an uncommon crime in Washington D.C. these days.
However, D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the description of one of the suspects caused quite a stir: A 6 or 7-year-old boy, standing about 4 feet tall and weighing 100 pounds. He would be in first grade.
The victim was reportedly approached by a group of young people between the ages of 6 and 14 years-old.
There is no doubt that juveniles are increasingly being charged as adults for serious, felony crimes - including robbery. According to D.C. Criminal Code 22-2801 and D.C. Criminal Code 22-4502, robbery is is punishable by between 2 to 15 years in prison - assuming you haven't used a firearm, in which case the maximum doubles to 30 years in prison. If a person has a prior record, a minimum mandatory of between 5 or 10 years could be imposed.
But that's only if the the juvenile were charged as an adult.
The juvenile system works differently. The ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system is diversion, whereas the adult justice system centers on punishment. The idea is that a juvenile is more likely than an adult to turn his or her life around.
Recent Supreme Court decisions have determined that even when a juvenile is charged as an adult for a serious crime, he or she can not be sentenced to death or life in prison, as an adult would for the same crime.
Prosecutors use a number of factors to determine whether a juvenile defendant should be tried as an adult or a juvenile. For the most part, it comes down to the nature of the crime and the age of the juvenile. There is no question that a 17-year-old who commits robbery is going to be treated differently than a 6-year-old.
In fact, for any child under the age of 10, a juvenile defense lawyer may be able to make a strong case that the child did not understand right from wrong - particularly if he or she was under the influence or pressure from older peers.
According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice, about 7 percent of the 1.5 million juvenile cases handled each year involve children under the age of 12. That amounts to about 110,000 total in the country. The vast majority of those cases are going to result in diversion programs.
The D.C. Deputy Attorney, quoted by The Washington Post with regard to the 6-year-old suspect, said that while it is unusual, it is not unprecedented. He said children as young as 8 years-old have been prosecuted for kidnapping, sex offenses, theft and assault.
The majority of juvenile offenses, however, are non-violent (about 70 percent). This case, although a felony, was not reported to be a violent crime, but rather a robbery by snatching.
Police are still cautiously vetting the information they received, as the victims were reportedly in the neighborhood to purchase drugs and had stopped at a fast food restaurant when they were reportedly robbed by the youths.