OGDEN, Utah — A judge rejected a challenge Thursday to an adult murder case filed against a 16-year-old girl accused of killing two people in a high-speed crash in Weber County on her way to carry out a suicide pact.
Judge Brent West in Ogden decided it’s not cruel and unusual for teenagers to face possible state prison time in adult court without consideration of their youth. He upheld a state law that puts serious cases filed against defendants 16 and older directly in adult court.
Defense attorneys had argued that young brains are fundamentally different from those of adults, and pointed to recent Supreme Court decisions that found they shouldn’t be subject to the most serious penalties.
“Once magically you hit 16, then suddenly you’re catapulted the adult system,” said lawyer Tara Isaacson, who is deciding whether to appeal the ruling.
She said the girl doesn’t have a prior criminal record, and asked for her to be charged in juvenile court. The possible sentence there would be limited to less than five years rather than a minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison if she’s convicted in adult court. The Associated Press is not naming the defendant because she’s a minor.
Prosecutors said there’s no constitutional right for teenagers to be treated differently from adults even in serious cases like this one, where two other young people died.
“She basically drove her car like a freight train and ran into the back of theirs. They’re the ones that paid the price at the end of this,” said prosecutor Branden Miles. Authorities said the girl stole her parents’ car in June and was on the way to a friends’ house so they could take drugs and kill themselves together when a police officer noticed the car dragging a trash can behind it and tried to pull her over.
She told officers after the crash that she decided to go through with the suicide when she saw the officer, so she hit the gas rather than stopping, police said. Her SUV slammed into another car in Roy at 98 mph. Driver Maddison Haan, 20, and passenger Tyler Christianson, 19, died in the crash.
If she’s convicted of the charges that include two murder courts, her age can be considered at sentencing. Miles said that’s the right time to weigh the issue, rather than shortly after charges are filed.
The judge agreed. “I don’t think that judges get involved in charging decision,” West said.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled four years ago that upheld a law sending older teenagers directly to adult court in serious cases.