A recent case in Largo is raising questions about juvenile court. A 15-year-old named Javarick Henderson Jr. was accused of killing his grandmother in 2019, and his case moved on to an adult court. His attorneys have been trying to move his case back to juvenile court, but there’s been significant pushback.
In 2019, Javarick, only 13 at the time, was arrested for the murder of his grandmother. Henderson’s younger brother told police that Henderson was covered in blood and cuts, which he claimed was due to self-harm, not stabbing his grandmother. Before his arrest, Henderson had no criminal record or history of disciplinary issues.
He was indicted by a grand jury only two weeks later, and his case moved on to adult court. Henderson was indicted for first-degree murder, the most serious felony the state of Florida has to offer, resulting in a life behind bars, but Henderson’s attorneys aren’t going to stand by and watch it happen. So, why is this case such a big deal?
Juvenile vs. Adult Court
The Henderson isn’t the first case to become a battleground for advocates of the juvenile court. In fact, it’s one of several cases over the last several decades where the courts have grappled with sentencing a minor through the adult justice system.
In general, minors face an entirely different justice system from adults. The biggest difference between the two is that the juvenile system focuses on reform while the adult system is all about punishment.
Judges in juvenile cases look at several factors to determine punishment:
- Degree of violence
- Awareness of wrongdoing
In the eyes of the court, minors are less likely to understand that they are doing something is wrong, and any violence may be the result of an explosive emotional reaction to a perceived threat. Because most children are incapable of planning and executing premeditated murder, the court provides opportunities for counseling, rehabilitation, and removal from a toxic home environment.
However, if evidence suggests that the crime was premeditated and the minor knew full well what they were doing, the court may move them to trial in an adult court. In other words, if a child thinks, acts, and commits violence on par with an adult, they are likely to be tried as an adult.
How Often Does This Happen?
According to the National Juvenile Justice Network, an estimated 250,000 juveniles have been tried, sentenced, and/or incarcerated as adults. This number may be staggering, but there are many high-profile cases where children have been tried as adults.
In recent memory, two girls, both 12 at the time, lured and stabbed another child 19 times. The girls allegedly committed the crime in honor of a fictional horror character, Slender Man. Morgan Geyser, who, according to investigators, was responsible for stabbing the victim, was tried and sentenced to over 40 years in a mental institution.
This case not only had proof of premeditation, but the crime was violent, and both girls appeared to be aware of their wrongdoing. Because of this, they were tried as adults.
Other cases have caught the attention of advocacy groups who continue to fight against trying minors as adults. Graham v. Florida is a 2010 case involving Terrance Graham, a 17 year old convicted of robbery, that went to the Supreme Court.
Terrance Graham was not only convicted of burglary, but he received a sentence of life behind bars without parole. His defender argued that life behind bars for a juvenile is unconstitutional, especially for lesser crimes. Graham won the case.
The Future of Juvenile Court
While Graham is still in prison, his case was groundbreaking for juveniles sent to adult prisons around the United States. For Henderson, the fight for juvenile court is an ongoing uphill battle. His lawyers have filed a 36-page motion arguing against Florida’s transfer law, which allows children 14 or older to be commuted to adult court.
Henderson faces decades behind bars as opposed to a mental institution like Morgana Geyser. If he goes to prison, he will experience punishment instead of reeducation and therapy, which could turn things around for him in the future.
The bottom line is that children tried as adults are often dropped into a system that builds up violent tendencies and aggression instead of guiding them toward reentry into society. Many children like Henderson desperately need the psychological care and attention the juvenile court process has to offer, but many of them may never get it.
For legal counsel regarding juvenile cases, contact the Law Office of David A. Webster, P.A.