Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Twelve-Year Old Murderer?

Twelve-year old Christian Fernandez is charged with intentionally killing his two-year old brother. His mother is charged with not seeking aid for the ailing child in a timely manner. Check out the full story here.

It's a difficult case for so many reasons, both legally and morally:

  1. Christian Fernandez's mother was twelve when she had him and, at twenty-four, had four children. One is in jail for murder and the other is dead.
  2. Allegations of abuse and neglect of Christian Fernandez at the hands of his mother goes back years.
  3. The mother didn't call 911 for hours after finding her son unconscious. She allegedly searched various websites during that time including a bank, medical information on concussions, and music downloads.
  4. Christian Fernandez is twelve and confessed to the police.  In NY, a parent or guardian is required at the interview for anyone under sixteen.
  5. Christian Fernandez apparently broke his brother's leg by beating him months earlier.
  6. Christian Fernandez can serve life without parole.
  7. It will be difficult to prove a twelve year-old intended to kill him with pre-meditation.
  8. It will be difficult to prove intentional murder if the only evidence is that he pushed him into a bookshelf.  The defense will be able to argue anything from accident to the "horsin' around" defense.
  9. He apparently turned down a plea deal that would have let him out of jail at his twenty-first birthday.  
  10. He's going to serve until eighteen in a juvenile facility, and then be placed in an adult prison.

I do not envy the prosecutor's who are handling the case. In most of my cases, sympathy is tough to garner for the defendant. Sympathy will be flowing out of the courtroom in this case.

At least in NY, we don't have to worry about twelve-year olds. Family court would handle this case. For murder in NY, the minimum is the ripe old age of thirteen.  The maximum for murder for a thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen year old is fifteen years to life in prison.  So they would be eligible for parole in fifteen years.

Luckily, I haven't had a case like that yet.

My youngest murder defendant? Fifteen years old. He shot and killed a man during a robbery gone bad.

So what do you think? At what age should a person be treated as an adult? Does it depend on the crime? Should the background of the defendant matter at all? Check out a discussion of New York juvenile crime law.


  1. Here in Oregon a boy who helped commit a murder at 13 was just sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 30 years. Sad all the way around.

  2. This is just tragic and horrible all the way around. Really. Just awful. I think in terms of how old it should depend on the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime, prior offenses/arrests and how much malice and forethought went into the crime but no matter what I think the age issue is always going to be a very complex and difficult one for people to grapple with, no matter who they are (victims, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, society in general.)You want to give a child the benefit of the doubt, a second chance at some point in life but unfortunately, there will be cases where it's too late to change the fundamental personality or behavioral/emotional problems a person already has--I'm not speaking about this case because I don't know enough about it to comment but just generally there are kids who start out criminals and stay that way no matter how many chances society gives them to lead a normal, law-abiding life.

  3. @ April - Another difficult case. HItting in the head with a tire iron, stabbing 25 times, and kicking him into a river. Whew. I've had this discussion with numerous defense attorneys recently. It seems that crimes are increasing in violence and the age of the perpetrator is decreasing every year.

    @ Lisa - All the factors you listed are what we consider whether to try the case in supreme court or family court. I distinctly remember my mother coming home in tears after delivering a guilty verdict as a juror in a murder case. She was so upset. I can't imagine how difficult that would have been if the defendant was thirteen.