Tracking Westside: Closer Look at Juvenile Laws

JONESBORO-After the 1998 Westside school shootings the race was on to convict 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson.

But nearly ten years ago the laws were much different.

"All they had to find was one act of juvenile delinquency. That could be anything from stealing bubble gum from the grocery store to a major felony. In this case it was major, multiple felonies," said Prosecuting Attorney Brent Davis.

Charged as juveniles the boys ended up walking free in just a few years.

"The stark reality that you had these type of crimes committed by eleven and thirteen year olds, and the potential they could be walking free among the citizens by the age of 18 with no sanctions was a real eye opener," said Davis.

The Westside school shootings opened the nation's eye to whether or not laws for juvenile's had harsh enough penalties.

In Arkansas, somewhat of a panic led to the Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction Act being passed by lawmakers the following year.

The new law makes all judgements appealable which can stretch trials like Westside out for years.

"The people who were the movers and shakers that got that legislation passed didn't want prosecutors to have the discretion to make those decisions. They wanted to put it in an issue where a judge makes a call, and that decision of the judge can be appealed to the appellate court and the system can become kind of clogged," said Davis.

While the new laws may not be clear for proceedings, they did break the age of juveniles down to thirteen years old.

"If you are under the age of 13 you are presumed not fit to proceed and not to have the capacity to proceed," said Davis.

However, anyone over thirteen could be more easily tried as an adult, which could have led to Mitchell Johnson having a much stiffer sentence back in 1998.

But as his trial on federal weapons charges approaches, Johnson's freedoms are the same as yours and mine.

"As bizarre as it is, Mitchell Johnson has no restrictions on his ability to possess firearms. He can possess firearms like you, I, or any other citizen can. One of the real potential benefits, should this prosecution be successful, would be that he would be a convicted felon and unable to posess firearms legally," said Davis.

Justin Trammel, who was in the car when Johnson was arrested on new years day, was the first in the state to be charged under the new laws created due to the actions of his friend in 1998.

Tuesday on Region 8 News hear from attorney Bobby McDaniel, one of the few who has spoken with Johnson since he was freed at age 21.

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