Criminal law: Treating a child as an adult

A 15 year old commits a crime, depending on the seriousness of the crime, that child should be treated as an adult.

Children in the past have been given many but not all of the due process protection that is recognized in adult criminal courts, so why can’t children be treated as adults if they get certain advantages that adults get. Juvenile courts have many of the same rights as adults such as the right to a hearing. Juvenile offenders are typically treated as a special group. The courts soon realized that children could commit serious offenses therefore the juvenile courts created a procedure to transfer the case to the adult criminal courts.

Nearly all states have provisions where if a juvenile who commits a serious felony can be prosecuted as an adult. This provision is called “concurrent jurisdiction” where the prosecutor can decide if the case will be moved to the adult courts. “Statutory exclusion” means that the legislature can require that certain serious crimes that involve juveniles can be tried in the adult court system instead of leaving it up to the prosecutor or the judge to decide how the case will be taken care of. In 1994 at least 13 states required that certain juvenile cases should be handled by the criminal courts. The case of the sniper shootings in the Washington D. C. area involved Lee Boyd Malvo who was 17 at the time of the shootings. Malvo was tried as an adult for capital murder and was sentenced to life without parole. One percent of juvenile cases are waved to the adult criminal court each year. Juvenile crimes lead to more serious crimes. Therefore the juveniles need to be stopped by being treated as adults and getting worse punishments than they would if treated as a juvenile. Both Bill Clinton and Robert Dole urged that juveniles charged with violent crimes be tried as adults, removing them from the protective confines of juvenile court proceedings. Courts are going back and looking at court cases that involved juveniles getting sentenced to life without parole. In 2009 the Supreme Court looked at two crimes (Graham and Sullivan) involving juveniles’ that committed crimes that should not have sentenced them to life without parole. They will be deciding whether life without parole sentences for juveniles is unconstitutionally harsh. Florida is one of six states to charge juveniles for non-homicide crimes. “An estimated 2,570 juvenile defendants in the United States are serving life without parole sentences, nearly all are homicide related. Of the 111 juvenile defendants who committed lesser offences such as Graham and Sullivan, 77 of them are in Florida prisons” (USA Today, Nov. 10, 2009). The Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non- homicide crime is unconstitutional. There was a 5-4 decision on this ruling. Justice Kennedy states in his majority opinion “Gives all juvenile non-homicide offenders a chance to demonstrate maturity and reform. The juvenile should not be deprived of the opportunity to achieve maturity of judgment and self-recognition of human worth and potential” (EJI). In 2010, a state judge in Michigan sentenced life without parole to Dakotah Eliason who was convicted of murdering his step grandfather. Dakotah was 14 at the time of the murder. The defense said this sentence was cruel and unusual punishment and violated the 8th Amendment. “Long-standing and unchallenged precedent establishes that when a juvenile is convicted of killing another human being, a life-without-parole sentence does not violate the Eighth Amendment,” says Judge Scott Schofield who was the judge in the Eliason case (, October 25, 2010). An article dated May 1995 states that the public is alarmed by the increasing number of juvenile violence. Between 1982 and 1992 arrest for juvenile violence doubled. If people were afraid of the increase in juvenile violence in 1982 and 1992 then what does that have to say for the violence now. Juvenile violence may not be as high as it was in the late 1900’s, that’s most likely because in the late 1900’s security wasn’t as serious as it is now. Juveniles in the late 1900’s had a better chance of getting something that they should not have in their possession than in 2011. In 1987-1993 politicians started using the phrase “adult crime, adult time.”

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A May 2010 article mentions that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without committing non- homicide crimes. Attorneys explain that juveniles cannot be convicted of a crime that they cannot control because their frontal lobe has not fully developed. The frontal lobe is responsible for reasoning, impulse control, and planning. A study was done at the New York University School of Medicine that shows that the frontal lobe is one of the last areas to reach maturity. It matures around age 20 or beyond. The 26th Amendment changed the voting age from 21 to 18, therefore most states lowered the age of adulthood to 18. Juvenile courts were designed to save children from the damage that could be caused by holding them with adult offenders. Studies show that transferring juveniles to adult courts is not an effective deterrent of further criminal activity. In 2005, the Supreme Court banned use of the death penalty against minors in all cases. In 2009 the Just Kids Partnership found that the adult court system teaches teens to become violent criminals, subject them to sexual and physical abuse and waste taxpayers money. Problems at home could have contributed to the child committing the crime therefore the courts should look into the juveniles’ family background. Studies show that juveniles who are tried as adults are more likely to commit another crime than those tried in the juvenile court system. This means that it is more effective to prosecute all juveniles in the juvenile court system.

The government should treat children as adults depending on how serious the crime is. Example: if a 14 year old murdered someone and it was not self defense then yes the child should be treated as an adult. Lock up only the most serious and most violent offenders. Kids that commit crimes such as murder or terrorism should be tried as adults not kids that are property or drug offenders. If children want to try to be grown up or are trying to grow up to fast then they should be treated like an adult if they want to act like an adult, like the phrase says “adult crime, adult time”. The only reason why a child should not be treated as an adult is if the crime is not serious enough or if the child has family or school problems or psychological problems then the courts would have to take a whole other approach. If people are concerned that teens being sent to jail with adults is critical to their health then the Government could build a building for teens that get tried as an adult and sentenced to jail time. Even though this will use tax money, it is better than putting kids into a jail that may not suit them. Also the kids will get more attention and learn to make better decisions if they ever get out of jail. This building will serve the purpose of the juvenile courts for those juveniles that committed serious crimes which is to rehabilitate, not only punish which is what the adult courts are used for. Since courts are now going back and looking at court cases where juveniles were sentenced to life without parole this means they will be letting some convicts out on good behavior or put them in the right facilities. These convicts that the courts are letting out are not murders but they still committed a crime. That is just like letting a 45 year old out for good behavior when he assaulted someone when he was 34. America is suppose to be a safe place, but if we have murders getting let out of jail and roaming the street who knows if they will strike again even if they were convicted when they were a juvenile. If the frontal lobe does not mature until into young adult hood than the Government should raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction till the age of when the frontal lobe is scientifically proven to be fully developed. So then courts can be sure that the convicted person’s brain was fully developed and they were fully aware of what was happening and what the consequences should be. The Government should also construct a document that says that you will still be considered a juvenile if you are under the age of 18, but if you commit certain serious crimes while under the age of 18 you will be treated as an adult.

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Most criminal activity happens after school hours and on weekends in the evening. Schools could help with the crime rate by offering more school activities that do not cost money to be in or are offered for a low cost. Then students would be less likely to commit a crime especially if they are an officer of a club or on a team that they represent in and outside of school. There are pros and cons to whether or not a child should be treated as an adult but if we do not stop the crime rate in children than the crime rate in adults is going to rise because once those children get older their crimes will most likely develop into more serious crimes. Juveniles are “different” than adults. Juveniles are not as mature as adults both physically and mentally but that does not mean they should not suffer the same consequences as adults. People always say children are the future but if we do not welcome them to the real world and make them realize that the decisions and actions they make have consequences than they will have no future and will not be able to make it through life.

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