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Circumstances and Implications of Trying Youth as Adults

13-year old Wisconsin Girls to be Tried as Adults in Slender Man Stabbing


A Wisconsin judge has held that Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, both 13 years old, will be tried as adults in the 2014 first-degree murder case that made international headlines last year. In Canada, similar to in the United States, a child can be tried as an adult in specific circumstances. Generally speaking, the child must be at least 14 years old at the time of the offence, the offence must be serious and attract a minimum of two years’ imprisonment for an adult; and the youth must have already been found guilty in youth court. Furthermore, if the young person has committed first- or second-degree murder before turning 14, the Attorney General may also petition for him or her to be tried in adult court.

Since 2010, there has been a push by the Conservative government for tougher treatment of youth who commit violent crimes. One rationale for this action is that young people should receive harsher sentences which are more proportionate to their offence, and that this can only be achieved in adult court. The expectation is that harsher punishment will result in lowered juvenile crime rates. However, there is little evidence to support the notion that youth are deterred from committing violent crimes because of the threat of receiving an adult sentence. Interestingly, however, there is evidence that these harsher punishments could actually result in higher rates of reoffending.

Trying youth as adults raises a number of important issues. First of all, the youth’s name is no longer protected by a publication ban, meaning that his or her act which would normally be treated as spilled milk, now becomes an indelible stain. The child’s notoriety will now follow him or her far into adulthood, quite possibly hindering efforts to reintegrate into society after being released. Another issue raised—and perhaps the most important—is that of the mental health implications of trying youth as adults. Both girls in the Slender Man case suffer from mental illness. Experts diagnosed Geyser with early onset schizophrenia, and Weier with a delusional disorder. The concern expressed by Geyser’s lawyer is that the girl’s condition would worsen in adult prison. His concerns are echoed by experts who fear that the situation of patients with mental illness in prison has reached a critical level.

Putting aside the suitability of adult sentences for children, the broader question in this case is what can and should be done for these girls in the way of their much-needed psychiatric treatment after they are sentenced. Secondly, how can we as a community prevent tragedies like this from happening again? Today’s youth are desperately susceptible to the perils of our modern technological era:  child predators, cyberbullying, the deluge of explicit content, exposure to graphic images, increased social isolation, increased anxiety and depression, and highly infections viral fanaticism such as that of the Slender Man case. More than ever, it behooves parents to monitor their children’s online lives, and to be aware of mental health issues that may affect their kids. Perhaps early intervention by parents and professionals could have prevented the tragedy of Wisconsin’s Slender Man stabbing—both for the victim, and her young attackers.

Sarah Newcombe

Student @ Law

Smordin Law


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