Per ABC News, Wilson Reyes, a 7-year-old Bronx boy, made national headlines this morning. Frances Menzes, the boy’s mother, alleges that the NYPD detained Wilson on Dec. 4 near his school, handcuffs and all, held him for four hours there, and then transported him to a police precinct for six more hours of questioning.
His terrible offense? According to ‘published reports,’ Wilson struck a 9-year-old who also attends his school and stole $5 from the boy. The New York Post reports that the city dropped the charges a few weeks later, prompting Menzes to threaten a substantial lawsuit (to the tune of $250 million) for the mistreatment of her son.
It is hard to imagine how the City of New York will justify having its officers detaining a 7-year-old for ten hours of interrogation, but any light that they might shed on the situation will have to wait – ABC News did not receive a comment.
Admittedly, the job of a police officer is a difficult one, and robbery is certainly not a victimless crime deserving no punishment. This case, however, illustrates the unique challenges which have developed in recent years as legislatures, courts, and citizens struggle with deciding how to deal with juvenile offenders.
Handling a juvenile offense is a delicate task which requires specialized expertise for everyone involved. Police officers, investigators, school administrators, and other personnel must balance their concerns for the safety of other children with the real possibility that reacting too harshly could cause irreparable damage to the juvenile suspect. Juveniles are also much less likely to understand their rights, substituting fear and confusion for the jaded demeanor of some accused adults. Furthermore, the rules regarding when a minor can be tried as an adult vary by jurisdiction, and a younger child may receive greater protections against unreasonable intrusions and punishments than an older one.
A criminal defense attorney in Phoenix with years of experience defending adults may lack knowledge about juvenile offenders and unique concerns about their rights to privacy and mitigated sentencing. Conversely, a juvenile defense lawyer in Scottsdale may have become so specialized in defending older teenagers against drug charges that a robbery charge against a 7-year-old, such as that filed against Wilson Reyes, would present a plethora of unforeseen obstacles.
A criminal conviction for a juvenile could negatively affect their entire life – a felony record which is not sealed once adulthood is reached could prevent the accused from financing a car, from being hired by employers, and could even damage their ability to provide care for their own children. Hopefully, your child is never interrogated by police for ten hours, but every case can have an extreme impact on yours and your child’s life.