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Court system likely to treat 11-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy differently

The boy and girl accused of setting a mother's bed on fire may have seen themselves as a couple. But they are likely to go separate ways in the legal system.

Florida's legal system is tough on youths accused of serious crimes — the state sends more juveniles to adult prisons than any other.

That could be the fate of the boy charged in this case, Jack Ault, 15.

At that age, if he is formally accused of a crime such as attempted murder or arson, prosecutors would have authority to treat him as though he were older. If so, his case would be transferred out of juvenile courts and into the court system used to try adults.

But the girl accused of trying to burn her mother is only 11. Even in Florida, charging such a young person as an adult would be rare, if not unprecedented. It would require a grand jury to indict her for a crime punishable by life imprisonment, such as attempted murder.

The investigation into the case is continuing, and no decision has been made on how to formally charge the two, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the office has previously gone to a grand jury to indict someone under 14. He cited the case of Jose Walle, who was 13 at the time he pointed a gun at a St. Petersburg restaurant worker while an adult friend raped another worker on the kitchen floor. Walle, now 15, was sentenced earlier this month to 27 years in prison.

Bartlett said using the grand jury system allows "a cross-section of the community" to make the decision on whether a youth under 14 should he charged as an adult. But he couldn't offhand remember the last time that happened, before Walle.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Irene Sullivan, a veteran of the juvenile bench, said the juvenile system is geared toward rehabilitation, which is why she favors juvenile sanctions for youths in most cases.

"You don't get that rehabilitation in prison for a kid. They're not designed that way."

Court system likely to treat 11-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy differently 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 10:29pm]
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