- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

HARRISBURG, S.D. (AP) - A judge will decide in the coming months whether a Harrisburg High School student accused of shooting his principal will be tried as an adult.

Attorneys for Mason Buhl, 17, filed a motion last month to have his attempted murder case transferred to juvenile court, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2gcNZak ) reported. The defense team’s move isn’t unprecedented in South Dakota, but the chances of its success in the state are about one in four, according to the data from the state’s Unified Judicial System.

Only a quarter of the 206 criminal defendants younger than 18 charged as adults had their cases moved to juvenile court in fiscal year 2016.

Authorities say Buhl, a recent transfer to Harrisburg High School, drew a gun Sept. 30, 2015, and shot principal Kevin Lein in the arm. Assistant principal Ryan Rollinger heard the gunshot and tackled Buhl. He and activities director Joey Struwe held Buhl down until police arrived.

South Dakota law says that anyone 16 or older who commits violent crimes like manslaughter, murder, kidnapping and rape automatically faces charges in adult court. It’s up to defense attorneys to argue to move the cases to juvenile court.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said he’s been on both sides of a juvenile’s transfer hearing - as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

He said there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding where to try a juvenile: the charges, the nature of the offense, the juvenile’s history and the opportunity for rehabilitation. The emphasis is typically placed on history in juvenile proceedings, Jackley said, but he still looks to protect communities from violent offenders even if they are minors.

“If they are only going to be in jail for one or two years,” he said, “that simply isn’t sufficient for some offenses.”

Wendy Hess, a law professor at the University of South Dakota, said the number of juveniles tried as adults could decrease if young offenders started in the juvenile system and prosecutors had to argue why adult sentences were appropriate.

Hess said juveniles have the greatest chance of rehabilitation and the adult criminal system doesn’t offer them many opportunities.

“I think it’s worth our time because we otherwise are investing resources into what actually isn’t rehabilitative and keeping us safer,” Hess said.


Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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