No charges for Newport News 6-year-old after shooting teacher
As several legal experts presumed, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn confirmed to several media outlets this week that Virginia law doesn't support charging the 6-year-old student who shot and seriously injured his teacher at Richneck Elementary in January.
Gwynn made the statement to NBC Reports. Hours before, a deputy commonwealth's attorney in the same office told WHRO it doesn't comment on pending cases — and that they anticipated a decision would take time.
"We have begun our review, but it will take some time given the volume of information we received from the police department," Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Travis White told WHRO in an email.
Gwynn's statements aren't unexpected. Several legal experts told WHRO it's highly unusual to charge children as young as the Richneck student.
Children younger than 14 rarely go through the regular criminal justice system, lawyers told WHRO.
Often, a younger child will become the state’s responsibility by way of a Child in Need of Services legal petition.
The state can put the child in foster care and coordinate services like mental health care.
Other times, officials and guardians can access those services without court intervention, said Julie McConnell, director at the University of Richmond’s Child Defense Center.
“We can't say that the answer here is ‘We just need to punish him. We need to put him in detention,’ that's not going to solve anything here,” she said. “The answer needs to be much more complex and nuanced than that.”
McConnell said she’s never seen a child younger than 8 prosecuted in a case like this.
Del. Mike Mullin represents Newport News. He’s also an attorney who spent much of his career as a prosecutor working in juvenile court.
“If you've ever met and spent some time with a 6-year-old, [they’re] not old enough to be able to make the kinds of decisions that even a 12- or 13- or 14-year-old can,” he said. “We need to recognize the fact that a child of that age might not be making the same sort of complex decisions of understanding what's right and wrong, understanding the finality of their actions in the same way that a preteen or a teenager might.”
Meanwhile, a parent or guardian may end up facing charges. Virginia has laws on the books designed to hold parents responsible when their young children get a hold of a gun.