Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Taylor declined on Tuesday to discuss the age, custody situation or legal representation of the sixth-grader suspected of shooting two students and a custodian at Rigby Middle School last week, citing confidentiality in juvenile court cases.
“I have to be very careful. This is a juvenile case and under Idaho law all juvenile cases are sealed,” Taylor told Idaho EdNews. “If I was to disclose anything from that case to you, I could be in contempt of court.”
Police say the suspect is a sixth-grade female. Sixth-graders are typically 11 or 12 years old.
In Idaho, three major factors influence whether a case is tried in juvenile or adult court: a suspect’s age, the crime they are charged with, and the outlook of the presiding judge.
Most children charged with a crime go through juvenile court and corrections proceedings. That system is designed to be “more rehabilitative than the adult system,” former Jefferson County prosecutor Paul Butikofer said in an email.
“This limits the State’s ability to impose punishment, but it takes into account the fact that the children are still growing and developing, and the reality that the offender will someday be released and needs to be prepared to live a productive life,” Butikofer said.
There are exceptions when youth get prosecuted as adults instead. If a child is over the age of 13, nine crimes can automatically move their case to adult court, including murder or attempted murder, or assault or battery with the intent to commit those crimes.
It’s unclear at this point what charges the suspected Rigby shooter is facing, though Taylor said in a news conference last week that the girl could be charged with attempted murder.
When a child aged 13 or younger is charged with one of these crimes, it’s up to a judge to determine whether that child will be prosecuted in juvenile or adult court, Butikofer said.
These cases start in juvenile court, and then the county probation department generally does an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the offense, Butikofer said. The court holds a hearing, where the prosecutor and defense present their arguments and the judge decides whether to bump the case to adult court. The law lays out a number of factors the court has to consider: How serious was the offense? Was it committed in an aggressive or premeditated manner? Does the youth have a previous history with the law? Can the child learn the life skills to be a contributing member of the community?
“In some cases, the investigation may show that the offender is very receptive to intervention and treatment,” Butikofer said. “Sometimes the juvenile system is best because it allows the offender to better integrate back into society, but in others, the adult system is the better option because of the risk of serious re-offense.”
The biggest difference between the two court systems is the sentencing, Butikofer said. If a child goes through the juvenile corrections system, the court can only have jurisdiction over the youth until age 21, and afterward the offender has no more punishment over their head. A juvenile tried in the adult system can receive a sentence that goes well beyond the age of 21.
Taylor said he doesn’t anticipate releasing more details on the prosecution anytime soon, as the case winds through the juvenile court process.