Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

24 January 2011

13-year-old US boy's murder trial could violate international law

13-year-old US boy's murder trial could violate international law

Amnesty International has urged the US authorities in the state of Pennsylvania to drop their pursuit of a murder trial in an adult court for a 13-year-old boy, as it could result in a violation of international law.

On 25 January, the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is set to hear an appeal against an earlier decision to try 13-year-old Jordan Brown in adult court on charges of killing Kenzie Houk, his father’s pregnant fiancée, when he was 11 years old in 2009.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General is pushing for the court to agree to Jordan Brown being tried as an adult, which will result in life imprisonment without parole if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

“Putting a child as young as Jordan Brown at risk of life in prison with no chance of parole is inconsistent with international human rights obligations” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Director for the Americas.  

The USA and Somalia are the only countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed before the age of 18.

“It is shocking that anyone this young could face life imprisonment without parole, let alone in a country which labels itself as a progressive force for human rights,” said Susan Lee.

Jordan Brown was charged with two counts of homicide, because the victim was eight and a half months pregnant and her unborn child also died.

He was automatically charged for trial in adult court in accordance with Pennsylvania law for murder cases. The 25 January hearing will review an appeal by Jordan Brown’s lawyers to have his trial transferred from an adult court to a juvenile court.  

Jordan Brown is the youngest person known to Amnesty International to be currently at risk of being sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole.  However, there are already at least 2,500 people in the US serving life imprisonment without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18.  

“The USA is the only country we know of in the world that pursues life imprisonment without parole against children – and it does so regularly” said Susan Lee.  

Amnesty International is calling on the USA to bring its laws into line with international standards on the treatment of children accused of criminal offences.


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