For decades, school shootings have surfaced and spread worldwide. Research continues after each case with hopes for a determination of the reasoning why someone would be so callous. Many attorneys, state prosecutors, forensic psychologist professionals, and judges sit in courtrooms to review some of the most heinous acts in America. But what would qualify a juvenile to become bound over by the State's laws? In the paper provided, there is a story of a young man by the name of Thomas “T.J.” Lane, that is currently incarcerated and bound over by Ohio State for murdering three and wounding others during a school shooting. Mental health professionals and attorneys stated that T.J. was competent during his acts of crime but has struggled severely throughout his entire childhood with untreated mental health diagnoses. Gathering proper assessments, bias behaviors, ethical and unethical situations, you may question the decision and final verdict of Ohio’s judicial system or suggest that the nation should have higher standards when it comes to violent crimes and treatment options.
Thomas “T.J.” Lane
A fifteen-year-old boy, born and raised in the state of Ohio and survived by his grandparents, Jack and Carole Nolan. T.J. was a quiet young man and stayed to himself most of the time. T.J. Lane fell in love with basketball early on and soon developed an infatuation of the popular rock group, Pink Floyd. T.J.’s life did not always seem so steady and quiet. As a young child, he witnessed a lot of domestic violence within the household. To the point where his parents were in and out of incarceration and no longer permitted to be around him. T.J.’s father ended up serving a sentence in prison due to physically abusing and suffocating his new girlfriend, shortly after the separation from his wife (T.J.’s mother).
High school years changed T.J. as he began wearing dark clothes and claiming the “Gothic” and troubling lifestyle. As you would imagine, he was then picked on by numerous counts of other students; but yet, he still stayed to himself. One day, T.J.’s uncle, Adam Mullen came home and was acting quite erratically due to the possible usage of heroin. Adam proceeded to lash out, striking T.J’s brother-in-law, John Bruner II. The two began fighting and carrying out. Once T.J. realized that Adam was unable to hold his own, he ran over to John and held him down while Adam lunged towards his revenge. The Sheriff’s Deputies were called out to the household, as they arrested and charged T.J. with assault and battery. A few days after T.J. was released from the county’s detention center, he proceeded to lash out, striking a kid in the face. This incident of which caused for T.J. to be admitted into an alternative school for troubled teenagers.
T.J. met a young lady that he made a connection with. The two began dating for a while and things seemed to be improving for him. He began seeing his father every other weekend for their father and son camping trips. Things seemed to be going back to normal until he became obsessive and quite jealous of his new girlfriend. His girlfriend was unable to take the jealously and ended things with T.J. Shortly after, T.J.’s ex-girlfriend began seeing another student by the name of Russell King JR. Threats surfaced back and forth between T.J. and Russell to the point where T.J. began working out to prepare for their fight. T.J. later posted long paragraphs on popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter, saying the words, “Die, all of you” (Lane, 2012).
On the early morning of February 22, 2012, T.J. loaded his uncle's 22-caliber Ruger MK3 and rushed to the high school. T.J. entered the school's cafeteria at 7:00 AM and fired ten rounds of ammunition into a crowd of students, striking six total. That day, T.J. ended the lives of three students, one being Russell King II. T.J. spotted a teacher and coach by the name of Frank and ran away from the scene. He was later apprehended right outside of the school and sent off to the County's Detention Center. Later in court, T.J. appeared with a nice button-up and khaki pants on but little did we know, he was hiding a white T-shirt under the button up that read the hand-written message of “KILLER” displayed on the front. The ruling of the delinquency acts came just about four months before he turned eighteen-years-old and bound over as an adult. T.J.’s attorneys, Ian Friedman and Mark Devan, understood the seriousness of the horrendous acts of cruelty; however, urged the court to keep the case Juvenile, where he would be able to receive less time and treatment for his mental illnesses.
Bound Over, South Carolina
In the state of South Carolina, juvenile and child refer to individuals that are younger than seventeen-years-old and are not applicable when an individual is sixteen years old or older with specific charges. In the state of South Carolina, code section, 16-1-20 (felony) can override the sentencing for a juvenile only if they are charged with Class A, B, C, or D felonies. With some offenses, the Solicitor may use discretion to control the sentencing and those felonies back to the family court system for possible disposition. Depending on the nature of the charge, law enforcement officers may decide to send the juvenile to the juvenile detention center for a hearing or the juvenile may be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice or a Circuit Solicitor.
Often the family court judge will order a DJJ evaluation before making his final determination. The evaluation occurs over a few weeks at one of the three regional evaluation centers and produces an evaluation report that is submitted to the family court judge, DJJ, the Solicitor, and defense attorney for review (South Carolina Bar. n.d.). Depending on the type of charge, the juvenile may be charged as not delinquent, delinquent, determinant (specific amount of time), indeterminate, which can hold the juvenile in the detention center until he or she is twenty-one-years-old. Some juveniles end up being released with a parole agreement or group home. There are many instances where a juvenile will be required to stay inside of the facility due to their legal guardians not responding to the release of the child.
Children should receive specific treatment and considerations by the court system. In the state of South Carolina, the law dictates that when a child is eligible to be bound over into adult court, the case must move away from family court and go under a more in-depth investigation. A family court judge has the authority to waive a child at any age’s charges of murder; however, if determined and charged as adults, the juvenile will then serve maximum imprisonment for those particular charges. A family court judge is required to waive a child 14 or older charged with an offense which, if committed by an adult, would carry a term of imprisonment of ten years or more and the child has previously been adjudicated or convicted for two prior offenses which, if committed by an adult, would carry a term of imprisonment of ten years or more. § 63-19-1210(10) (Richey, 2014).
There are eight factors that the United States' Supreme Court has identified in specific bound over court cases that would determine whether or not to waive a child's court case from developing into a more serious charge. The eight factors are: (1) the seriousness of the alleged offense and whether waiver is necessary to protect the community; (2) whether the offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated, or willful manner; (3) whether the alleged offense was against persons or property; (4) whether there is sufficient evidence for a Grand Jury to return an indictment; (5) the desirability of trial and disposition of the entire case in one court when the child’s co-defendants in the alleged offense are adults; (6) the level of sophistication and maturity of the child; (7) the child’s record and previous criminal or adjudicative history; and (8) the prospects for adequate protection of the public and the likelihood of reasonable rehabilitation of the child by the use of services currently available to the court (Richey, 2014).
In T.J.’s case, due to his reactions in court, the South Carolina judge would agree to bound him over as an adult. His lack of remorse and troublesome reactions would clearly show that this individual is heartless and competent enough to commit the harsh crime again. Many counselors and professionals believe that regardless of the age, a child under the age of eighteen should not be charged and bound over as an adult; but, should receive the proper treatment in a juvenile facility to prevent recidivism and additional risk factors. Some of the risk factors associated with being bound over as an adult could include early antisocial behavior and emotion factors, poor cognitive development, inadequate or inappropriate child-rearing practices, maltreatment and abuse, gang involvement, less exposure to positive social opportunities, poor or no academic performance, and so forth. Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General (2001 (chapter 4)) elaborates: “Violence prevention and intervention efforts hinge on identifying risk and protective factors and determining when in the course of development, they emerge. To be effective, such efforts must be appropriate to a youth’s stage of development. A program that is effective in childhood may be ineffective in adolescence and vice versa. Moreover, the risk and protective factors targeted by violence prevention may be different from those targeted by intervention programs which are designed to prevent the recurrence of violence”.
Development Risk Factors
The major risk factors are individual (high impulsiveness and low intelligence), family (parental criminality, poor supervision, harsh discipline, child maltreatment, disrupted families, large family size, and family poverty), peer delinquency, gang membership, urban residence, and living in high crime neighborhoods (Farrington & Loeber, 2000). Several studies have linked prenatal and perinatal complications with later delinquent or criminal behavior (Kandel et al., 1989; Kandel and Mednick, 1991; Raine & Mednick, 1994). Risk and needs assessment instruments typically consist of a series of items used to collect data on offender behaviors and attitudes that research indicates are related to the risk of recidivism (James, 2018). Violent youths who have violent parents are far more likely to have modeled their behavior on their parents' behavior -- to have learned violent behavior from them -- than simply to have inherited it from them (Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). In the case of T.J. Lane, he witnessed violence in the household as a young and innocent child. His parents did not hide their abusive ways and continued to fight while he was present and actively watching. His parent’s fights began to escalate so bad to the point that law enforcement was involved. As his parents grew apart from one another, T.J. moved in with his grandparents that tried to give him a better life, assuming that he felt neglected and unloved by his biological parents.
Forensic Risk Assessments
The Risk-Needs-Responsibility model has become dominant in the risk and needs assessment as it states that convicted offenders should be placed in specific programs that are equal to their risk level given. The higher the RNR score is, the more intensive the treatment and other services become. The Historical Clinical Risk Management-20, Version 3 (Douglas & Belfrage, 2013), also known as HCR-20V3, or simply V3, is a comprehensive set of professional guidelines for the assessment and management of violence risk. Following Versions 1 and 2 of the HCR-20, the HCR-20V3 embodies and exemplifies the Structured Professional Judgment (SPJ) model of violence risk assessment. Its most common applications are within correctional, forensic, and general or civil psychiatric settings, whether in the institution or the community (Douglas, Webster & Belfrage, 2013). The HCR-20 is commonly used for constructing formulations of violence risk, future risks, risk management planning, and communication of risks.
Forensic psychology plays an important role in many court cases. However, concerns have been raised about inconsistent and unreliable results, which may lead to injustices in sentencing or even wrongful convictions (Simons, 2017). After reviewing the case of T.J. Lane, I would have personal biases towards the assessments completed and the state’s considerations. T.J. acted very inappropriately in court and hurt a lot of people. Quite often, people tend to forgive the emotionally unstable individual that may have murdered their child but, in this case, I do not believe that anyone would even attempt to forgive. From years of experience with criminals, I would instantly label T.J. as a psychopath due to his ruthless decisions and poor attitude. It is easy to become bias when it comes to criminals and assessments. Many times, “we have seen it all” and we constantly relive it.
In order to avoid from providing bias opinions that are not factual in court, there are numerous improvements to counteract the source of being bias, such as: mandating specific training requirements for forensic evaluators, using several independent evaluators, using the standardized structural measures as needed, providing written justifications of reasoning and choice of the evaluations measure, and requesting blind expert evaluators that are unaware of which side retained their services. Another way to avoid being bias during the assessments and expert witness stage is to be aware of my own biases and not focusing on how I feel about this child being charged. As a forensic psychologist, I believe that treatment is always optional, especially for a child.
I do have questions and concerns with the way this case was/is being handled the present day. I found myself being biased towards the way things were handled in court and with evaluations presented. I do not feel as if the trial was properly handled and T.J.'s mental health and family history should have been evaluated in more detail. Although T.J. committed horrible acts of violence, he deserved a fair trial and optional treatment, especially at his young age. Mental health professionals will all advocate and say that it is very difficult to diagnose an adolescent with severe mental health illnesses such as personality disorders. In the state of Ohio, there is not much of a concrete definition between legally or morally wrong and because the judge wanted the families to be at ease before the holidays, Lane was bound over as an adult and sentenced on three counts of murder. T.J. told officers that he wanted to study mental health and spent the first eighteen months in prison, playing with Pokemon cards. T.J.’s behavior was very stubborn and immature. He complained about suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations and seven migraines throughout his life. While in prison, T.J. refused to participate in classes due to these migraines returning, especially when instructed to read or review content on a computer monitor.
Research has shown that the treatment of juvenile offenders is most effective when it takes into account the possible risk factors for re‐offending. It may be asked whether juvenile offenders can be treated as one homogeneous group, or, if they are divisible into subgroups, whether different risk factors are predictive of recidivism (Mulder, Vermunt, Brand, Bullens, & Marie, 2011). Juvenile Delinquent facilities were created for the treatment of juvenile offenders and to prevent recidivism. A separate justice system is preferable for juveniles who commit delinquent or criminal acts because they lack the emotional and psychological ability to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions, not only for themselves but others as well (Dodson & Whitehead, 2014). T.J. was charged as an adult but was penalized as a juvenile in some cases while in prison.
Thomas “T.J.” Lane
In July 2019, South Carolina changed its law, stating that a juvenile will automatically be charged as an adult by the age of Eighteen-Years-Old. Juveniles bound over to lose their childhood, their freedom, their education, and their psychological benefits that are offered by juvenile-detention facilities. Surveys report, juveniles that are bound over and tried as adults are more likely to be sexually abused in prison and at a higher risk of self-harm and suicide. Although the struggle is not new to our criminal justice system, there are many unethical and bias standpoints when it comes to being bound over as an adult. There is a fine line between leading a juvenile in the right and positive direction and destroying the child for every fiber of their being.