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Why is teen suspect in Lily Peters' death being prosecuted in adult court?

Each state has different criminal defense laws but in Wisconsin, anyone over the age of 10 charged with a murder starts out in adult court.

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis — In Lily Peters' alleged killer's initial appearance hearing, the state outlined some gruesome details that came out from the investigation.

“The statements that the defendant made to law enforcement, that his intention was to rape and kill the victim from the get go, when he left the house with the victim going down the trail, the state believes there's a need to protect the community,” District attorney Wade Newell said in court on Wednesday.

The 14-year-old defendant was given a $1 million bond and currently faces three charges of first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and first-degree sexual assault of a child under 13 resulting in great bodily harm.

It is because of that murder charge, that the minor is being seen in adult court, per Wisconsin law, according to Mitchell Hamline law professor Brad Colbert.

“Each state does it differently,” Colbert said. “In Minnesota, we have a cut off at age 14, where someone who is under the age 14, cannot be certified to adult courts. In Wisconsin it's different. In Wisconsin, someone who is charged with a murder conviction is presumptively put into adult courts.”

That is, if the defendant is over the age of 10, they start out in adult court.

“It's really low, in Wisconsin it's ten,” he said. “That's only for murder.”

Colbert says the defendant's attorneys can apply for what is called a reverse waiver.

RELATED: Chippewa Falls Police announce arrest in death of Lily Peters

“They will ask that this get sent back to the juvenile court, that will be the first issue the court will determine substantively, is should this case go back to juvenile court,” he said. “Would society and this particular individual be served by having this case in juvenile court? Depending on what happens there, it may go back to juvenile court, or it may continue on in adult court.”

And of course, there are marked differences between juvenile court, and regular court.

“Juvenile court is designed to [work] with juveniles, they're designed to make sure they receive the benefits of the system,” Colbert said. “The adult court is more about responsibility and accountability and quite frankly, punishment and that's when you get sent to prison. Juvenile court, the idea is and there is a jurisdictional limit-- most times, if after you hit 18 or 21, then you are done with your particular criminal sentence, if you get sentenced in adult court you can serve the rest of your life in prison.”

Despite the defendant's alleged admissions to police about his intentions, Colbert says the constitution protects his rights to representation.

“It's a really emotionally traumatic experience for family, difficult for everyone,” he said. “He has a right to an attorney, a right to someone who will advocate zealously on his behalf.”

RELATED: WI DOJ: Lily Peters case did not meet AMBER Alert criteria

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