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As 16-Year-Old Faces Adult Charges, Utah Lawmaker Wants To Give Judges More Options

Photo of the Tooele County District Court building.
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The suspect in the Grantsville shooting will face charges in the 3rd District Court in Tooele.

Not much is known yet about the motives behind the shooting last weekend in Grantsville. The suspect though is 16-year-old Collin Haynie, accused of killing his mother and three of his siblings in their family home. 

He’s facing 10 charges in Utah district court, including four counts of aggravated murder.

And even though he’s under 18, he’ll be seen as an adult in the eyes of the court. That means he could spend the rest of his life in state prison. 

Under Utah state law, it’s mandatory that juveniles 16 and older accused of murder are tried as adults.

Anna Thomas, a policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, said while the situation is tragic, locking a kid up and throwing away the key usually does more harm than good.

“We know it's not effective in terms of rehabilitating anyone,” she said. “As a society, what are we getting out of that?”

That concern was one of the main reasons behind Utah’s juvenile justice reform in 2017. Before that, a state report found that the longer kids are locked up, the greater their chances of committing another crime.

Republican State Representative and former juvenile prosecutor Lowry Snow sponsored the legislative bill behind those reforms. Now he’s working on a follow-up that would give judges the option of keeping minors like Haynie in the juvenile system.

He said that it’s important to remember why there is a difference between criminal justice for young people and adults. The adolescent brain is not fully developed until age 24-25, he said, so they don't have the same capacity as adults to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions. 

“The reform is an effort to recognize that difference,” he said. “And to have our system recognize that young [people], especially for low level offenses, are capable of turning their lives around. And even for those that are accused of serious crimes, recognizing that we're dealing with children and not with adults is better policy.”

It’s unlikely though that the bill would apply to the Grantsville case or to any young people in Utah already serving time as adults.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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