The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has scheduled a date to hear oral arguments by an attorney challenging state law that automatically certifies teens as adults in first degree murder cases.
The attorney for Michael Bever, 16, says that although his client is accused of murdering five family members and attempting to murder a sixth, state law that requires his client to be tried as an adult is unconstitutional. By denying 15, 16, and 17-year-old murder defendants the opportunity to apply to be certified as youthful offenders or juvenile delinquents, he argues, the state is depriving them of their right to due process. He argues that because adolescent brains are not yet fully developed, they should not automatically be treated as adults for the purpose of criminal prosecution.
A Special Judge denied the lawyer's motion on October 21, and he took the case to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which will hear arguments in January--only one day before Michael Bever and his brother Robert Bever, 18, face a preliminary hearing in the murder case against them.
The attorney says that if the Oklahoma appeals court denies his motion, he will take the case to the United States Supreme Court.
While the elder Bever brother may face the death penalty in the murders of his father, mother, brothers, and sister, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for defendants who committed their crimes before they were 18 years old.
Currently under Oklahoma law, minors aged 15, 16, or 17 accused of first degree murder are tried as adults. Minors aged 13 or 14 accused of first degree murder may be tried as adults or may be certified as youthful offenders or even juveniles.
Under the Oklahoma Youthful Offender Act, minors who commit certain crimes are prosecuted as youthful offenders, a distinction which bears more harsh penalties and consequences than if those associated with juvenile delinquent adjudication. Youthful offender status serves as an intermediary between adult and juvenile crimes, allowing serious penalties for serious crimes--such as murder, manslaughter, and rape--while recognizing that adolescents' motives are often different from those of adults, that their brains are not fully developed for appropriate decision-making, and that they often have great potential for rehabilitation.
Learn more about Oklahoma's Youthful Offender Act here, or call (405) 418-8888 to speak to an attorney about criminal defense for a minor accused of a serious crime.