Oregon Teen Gets Life in Prison for Murder Committed at Age 13
In early December, a 15-year-old Hillsboro teen was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for a crime he committed when he was just 13 years old.
Juan Carlos Negrete-Vasquez was convicted of aggravated murder in adult court. He was accused of beating and stabbing another teenager. Negrete-Vasquez was acting under the command of a 20-year-old man who was apparently seeking revenge against the victim.
Negrete-Vasquez is one of the youngest children to be convicted of aggravated murder in Oregon history
Juvenile vs. Adult Court
Most juvenile criminal offenses are handled through the state's juvenile justice system. The system is intended to help rehabilitate youthful offenders. For that reason, the state will often try to refer youthful offenders to appropriate counseling, probation or treatment programs.
If those methods don't work or if the youth committed a serious crime, he or she may be transferred to the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority for out-of-home placement in a correctional facility, group home or other facility. Even then, juvenile offenders are usually subject to limited sentences.
However, some youthful offenders - like Negrete-Vasquez - bypass the juvenile system and are tried as adults. This can happen in one of two ways: automatically if the youth is over age 15 and charged with a "Measure 11" offense or by prosecutorial request for waiver to adult court. "Measure 11" offenses are serious crimes such as murder, assault, rape and sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping.
Juveniles prosecuted in adult courts are subject to the same sentences as adult offenders. However, they do not move into adult prison until age 25. In the meantime, they are housed in Oregon Youth Authority facilities where they have access to youth correctional programming.
Is it Fair to Sentence Children as Adults?
Many people believe it is unjust to impose adult sentences on juvenile offenders, especially those as young as Negrete-Vasquez. A 13-year-old child simply does not have the same capacity to reason and understand consequences as an adult does. Young teens are also much more susceptible to peer pressure and impulsive decision-making.
Defense lawyers in Negrete Vasquez's tried to argue that it was unconstitutional to impose a life sentence for a crime committed at such a young age. Unfortunately, the judge disagreed.
Negrete-Vasquez did get one reprieve, however. Under Oregon law, aggravated murder can be punished by death. Thankfully for him, juvenile offenders-even those tried as adults - are not eligible for the death penalty.
The assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is invaluable when navigating the Oregon criminal justice system. If your child has been charged with a crime, promptly contact a lawyer experienced in juvenile criminal defense to discuss your situation.