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Abstract

Juveniles are more likely than adult offenders to commit crimes in groups. This tendency makes the juvenile offender more susceptible to the felony murder rule. In three experiments we tested the notion that juveniles arrested and charged under the felony murder rule would be transferred into the adult criminal justice system based on an equalistic (i.e. the application of the felony murder rule) or a proportional (i.e. the just deserts philosophy) rule. Participants read case descriptions of an armed robbery (no death, accidental death, or intentional death) in which defendants had different levels of involvement in the crime (getaway driver, lookout, sidekick, or triggerman). Involvement was manipulated within subjects in Experiment 1 (i.e., participants rendered judgments for each defendant) and between subjects in Experiment 2 (i.e., each participant judged one of the defendants). The participants in Experiments 1 and 2 were undergraduate psychology students selected from a public university located in the mid-west. The purpose of Experiment 3 was to determine whether the results of the first two experiments could be generalized to a community sample. The community sample was randomly selected from the rural and urban areas in the same geographical region as the university samples. The results indicated that the community participants were more likely to transfer the defendants to adult court than the student participants. However, the same pattern of results emerged for all of the samples, indicating that the triggerman was more likely to be transferred to adult court than the other defendants, especially if an intentional or accidental death occurred. These results support the conclusion that the defendants were transferred based on their involvement in the crime, thus supporting the proportional rule or the just deserts philosophy. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.