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In this case, the juvenile is Tristen Kurilla who was ten years old when he was charged. The crime, in this case, was the murder of an elderly woman when Tristin was still under the care of his grandfather. It was not long after his tenth birthday that Tristen committed this crime by allegedly beating the victim, who was ninety years old by then with his fists and choked her with a cane. The victim’s name was Helen Novak, and Tristen’s grandfather was the one who was taking care of her. After the realization by his grandfather of the injuries that Novak had sustained from his grandson’s attack, he offered to send Novak to the hospital, but she declined. Shortly after the ordeal with Tristen, she died from her injuries. Tristen later confessed to his mother who took him to the police station where he admitted again.
According to Tristen, he stated that his intention was not to kill her but to only hurt her. In this line, Tristen’s mother waived her son’s right to an attorney, a matter that might have been informed by her difficulty in managing the behaviour of Tristen in the past. She noted that Tristen had been suffering from mental problems and that he had a history of being violent on various occasions.
An exciting aspect of the case was that it received a lot of media attention. One of the reasons alluded to this was that Kurilla was one of the youngest Americans to go before a court of law and face charges for murder and at the same time tried as an adult. The understanding here is that most states use an age range from thirteen to fifteen as the minimum age in which children can face trial as adults with Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin being the exceptions to the rule. If he had been tried in another state, the maximum amount of time he would have served would be eleven years when he would have turned twenty-one since his case would have been moved to the juvenile court. However, the situation remains different for Tristen would face trial as an adult and could potentially serve a prison sentence of twenty-five years.
For the discussion part, the four concepts chosen to explain the news story described above include the rational choice theory, techniques of neutralization, mens rea, and ecological fallacy. The first idea will be the rational choice theory which is an approach that many sociological scientists use to understand the aspects of human behavior. Lately, this concept has gained popularity in other disciplines other than economics.
The primary premise behind the rational choice theory is that it tries to explain how incentives and restraints have an impact on the behavior of an individual. Some assumptions form the fundamental platform on this theory. One of them is the element of individualism in that rational choice theory bases its focus on individual behavior. Secondly, this concept also assumes that individual aims at maximizing their goals. The third one is the assumption that individuals are only interested in themselves (Gul, 2009).
The way in which this theory applies to Tristen Kurilla’s case is the fact that the defendant had the sole objective of maximizing on his benefits. According to the rational choice theory, a person will only commit a crime if they deem the perceived costs less compared to the potential benefits. In this case, Kurilla decided to beat Novak with his feast out of a fit of anger but only after mentally calculating this move. He then took a can and choked her with it which seems very intentional and uncharacteristic of a person who acts in a spur of the moment. The rational theory also states that persons choose their behavior based on mental calculations whether this is deviant or conforming. As such, Kurilla did not react abruptly, but out of the fact that he had a history of being violent, it was a behavior he was accustomed to thus was aware of the action he was taking.
In the same line, the rational choice theory also involves the fact that the central element behind the mental calculation before committing an act comprises of pleasure versus pain or a hedonistic nexus. The meaning of this postulation is that the person knows that committing the act will give them pleasure or satisfy their hedonistic urges. Going back to Kurilla’s case, he felt angry that Novak had yelled at him and the only way he could release that anger and obtain pleasure from his revenge was by attacking the helpless elderly woman. Not only that, his insistence on inflicting more pain to Novak is explained by this theory in that such persons aim at maximizing their pleasure. The explanation here is that Kurillaf had to optimize on inflicting pain on Novak to the best of his ability to quench his thirst for perceived revenge.
The second concept is the techniques of neutralization. The idea behind this concept is that persons accused try to rationalize the crime they have committed in an attempt to justify their deviant behavior (Li & Cheng, 2013). In essence, it is an extended element of defending the fact that a person has committed a crime and also aided the perception that the delinquent views his or her actions as valid but the legal system and society see otherwise. In this case, criminals will use these claims to neutralize their criminal acts and protect themselves from blame for actions committed.
As such, this theory involves five deviant techniques. They include denial of responsibility, injury, victims, condemning the condemners, and appealing to higher loyalties. In this case, this theory applies in part to Tristen Kurilla’s case. The reason for this postulation is that after he committed the crime, Kurilla denied that he had anything to do with the condition of Novak after his grandfather questions him regarding the bloody mouth he had seen on her face. Under the concept of denial of victims, the criminal sees it as an act that they deserved. In this case, Kurilla felt that Novak was deserving of the injuries inflicted on her because she yelled at him.
The third concept involves mens rea. The premise behind this idea generally involves the whether the mind of the person who committed the crime is guilty or not. This statement implies that a person found to have committed a crime and caused injury without mens rea might only face a civil liability suit but not a criminal case (Heller, 2009). In these modern times, the concept of mens rea has somewhat evolved into a more refined and narrow meaning.
The current definition assigned to this idea is that the state of mind or inattentiveness which when coupled together with the resulting action, the criminal law then refers to this as an offense. Technically, this statement implies that the mens rea of a felonious crime involves the aspects that comprise the defined offense which in turn describe the required state of mind of the defendant as of the time he or she committed it. However, mens rea does not include excuse defense lying outside the definition of the offense. Even though Tristen Kurilla admitted to the fact that he did not intend to kill Helen Novak, his state of mind as of the time of committing the crime seems to suggest that it was intentional rather than unintentional. The reason is that his decision to use more than one method of inflicting pain on Novak appears to indicate that he had full control of his actions.
The final concept is the ecological fallacy. The primary idea here involves the situation where a researcher or analyst can make an error by making an inference about an individual or person while basing it on aggregated data from a particular group (Boslaugh, 2007). In the case of Tristen Kurilla, ecological fallacy was committed by his lawyer where he stated that juveniles do not have a sense of risk as compared to adults. He further went on to postulate that youths participate in a spur of the moment behavior without necessarily weighing the repercussions of their behavior. Lastly, he claims that juveniles cannot control their emotions which only develop until they are in their twenties. Even though he had the fiduciary responsibility to represent Kurilla, he committed an ecological fallacy by his inference that Kurilla did not have control over his emotions and only killed Novak out of mere erratic behavior.
According to my view, I believe that Tristen should face trial as an adult. The reason for this is because he willfully and intentionally murdered a helpless old woman because she only yelled at her. Kurilla’s behavior is an indication of a person who had gotten used to getting away for whatever he did. In this case, he should not get eleven years as would be the case under a juvenile court but the twenty-five years he is expected to serve. My prediction is that he might undergo a mental evaluation and be later tried under a juvenile court thus getting jail time for eleven years only. Kurilla’s case relates to the module reading in that it explains how the media can frame and influence how we think about criminal acts. In this case, Kurilla’s case made people sympathetic because of the unique nature of his age which might affect the decision by the court.
Boslaugh, S. (Ed.). (2007). Encyclopedia of epidemiology. Sage Publications.
Gul, S. (2009). An evaluation of the rational choice theory in criminology. Girne American University Journal of Social and Applied Science, 4(8), 36-44.
Heller, K. J. (2009). The cognitive psychology of mens rea. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 317-380.
Li, W., & Cheng, L. (2013, June). Effects of Neutralization Techniques and Rational Choice Theory on Internet Abuse in the Workplace. In PACIS (p. 169).
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