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Digging Deeper: What happens when a child gets moved to juvenile court

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Chippewa County (WQOW) - Last November, a case in Chippewa County shook our community to its core.

Authorities said the 10-year-old girl confessed to dropping the child and repeatedly stomping on the baby's head.

"There are a handful of crimes, probably less than a handful of crimes, for which a 10-year-old can be charged in adult court and must start out in adult court," said the 10-year-old's attorney Mike Steuer.

First-degree reckless homicide is one of those and that's what the 10-year-old was charged with.

On October 11, Judge James Peterson moved her case to juvenile court.

When a juvenile is charged with a crime as an adult, it's public record and anybody can see what's happening in the case.

Once the minor is charged as a juvenile, the public is left out of the loop.

News 18 sat down with the 10-year-old girl's attorneys. While they wouldn't talk about her case specifically, this isn't the first child they've represented.

"Sometimes there are cases that come along that really require much more of your attention," said the 10-year-old's attorney Laurie Osberg.

"I don't know any 10-year-old or 11-year-old or 12-year-old quite frankly regardless of the seriousness of the delinquent act that was committed who should be in adult court," Steuer said. " I felt that way as a prosecutor and I feel that way as a defense attorney because I know they don't understand what is happening."

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell didn't prosecute this case but said in juvenile court the focus isn't on jail time; rather rehabilitation.

"It's about what can we do to make the juvenile's life better," Newell said. "What can we do to help them so this doesn't happen again?"

"Sometimes they're placed at home, sometimes they're placed in detentions, sometimes they might be placed in another facility," Osberg said.

There is a time limit though. Dunn County Judge Rod Smeltzer said most juveniles are released when they turn 18 unless they're still working toward their high school diploma.

In some rare cases, they'll stay in the juvenile system well into their 20s.

"Depending on the violation, or the offense that the juvenile was involved in, like the serious juvenile offender program where you can keep the juveniles into a program until 21 or even up to 25 depending on if certain criteria is applied," said Judge Smeltzer.

The last we knew the young girl is in a juvenile unit at Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Eau Claire.

We do know she will never go to prison for the death of the baby she's accused of killing.

The goal now is rehabilitation.

Data shows rehabilitation does not always occur.

According to the non-partisan, non-profit organization "Council of State Governments Justice Center," up to 80% of incarcerated youth are re-arrested within three years of release in many states.

Officials said the key to reducing that rate is to get them into programs to help them transition back into normal life.

Shannon Satterlee

Shannon Satterlee joined News 18 in February 2018 as a Multi-Media Journalist.

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