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Girl, 5, Drowns Crying Toddler: Murder Charge?

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on June 13, 2011 6:51 AM

Can a child commit murder? A 5-year-old girl from Kansas City, Missouri has reportedly told investigators that she purposefully drowned Jermane Johnson Jr., an 18-month old toddler.

Johnson and the 5-year-old girl were cousins, reports MSNBC. The children were left in the care of a 16-year-old babysitter, who had fallen asleep when the incident occurred.

The 5-year-old told investigators that she did not like Johnson because he cried too much. After the adults left the house with the children in the care of the 16-year-old, the 5-year-old dragged Johnson to the bathtub which hadn't been drained. He later drowned.

Keeping in mind that the girl is only five years old, could she face murder charges? "I've been in law enforcement for 20 years, and it's the youngest suspect I can remember," police spokesman Darin Snapp told MSNBC.

The five-year-old may be a suspect, but the chances that she will be facing a murder charge seem highly unlikely.

In most countries, including the United States, children have to be of a certain age in order to be prosecuted for crimes, even in juvenile court. The idea behind this is that children that are too young are not able to form the requisite intent to commit a crime.

The "age of criminal responsibility" is the threshold from which states can prosecute children who commit crimes. The idea is that once a child is of a certain age, their minds have developed enough so that they now can form the intent required.

In 1997, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency protection compiled a table of the various ages of criminal responsibility from state to state. The lowest state was Oklahoma, at age 7, with the oldest being several states who set the age at 14. Most states have not set a minimum, and rely on the common law standard that children between the ages of 7 to 14 can be held responsible for criminal acts but cannot be presumed to be responsible.

So, can a child commit murder? In many cases no - and likely not in the case of the allegations of a 5-year-old's intentional drowning of Jermane Johnson.

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