This research paper will examine whether or not juveniles that commit violent crimes should be tried as an adult. Through research, I will establish an argument that children who commit the crimes of an adult should be punished as an adult. Data based on experience and observation detailing the number of juvenile offenders that are housed in adult prisons and jails, as well as the number of prisoners serving life sentences that were earned by committing violent crimes before the age of 15 will be included in this research paper. Finally, I suggest that children who commit crimes that are considered violent enough to even be considered for adult criminal court should in fact be tried in that very venue. Keywords: juveniles, violent crimes, adult prosecution
Prosecuting Juveniles in Adult Court
In this paper, I will look at current scholarly thought to determine the effectiveness of trying juveniles as adults in a court of law. In extreme instances, juveniles of a broad range of ages have committed violent crimes that the criminal justice system has determined to be impossible to have been committed by the accepted frame of mind of a juvenile. These juveniles were tried in adult court and sentenced accordingly. The purpose of my research is to examine juveniles who have been tried as adults and to discuss its strengths and weaknesses. I will analyze the information that I gather and will provide a strong case that this practice is appropriate. Many people believe that some crimes are so terrible that the courts should focus on the type of offense and not on the age of the accused.
Several authors address the issues surrounding juveniles who are tried as adults (Hudson, 2009; Mason, Chapman, Chang & Simons, 2003; Nunez, Tang, 2003). Hudson (2009) emphasizes that with the hope of eventual release, juvenile offenders will be more inclined to better themselves and gravitate towards rehabilitation while incarcerated. Mason, et al., (2003) suggests that through education and training, it is possible to influence the judicial system in a manner that increases the use of juvenile sanctions among youth transferred to adult court. This line of thinking agrees with Hudson in the sense that juveniles exposed to sanctions such as therapy will be likely to receive lesser sentences in adult court; therefore, increasing their hope for release.
In the law, a juvenile is defined as a person who is not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. In most states, as a general rule, offenders under the age of 18 are treated as juveniles. In Wyoming a juvenile is a person under the age of 19 (Bower, 2007). In some states, a juvenile is a person under the age of 17, and in Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina, a juvenile is a person under the age of 16. These age definitions are significant because they determine whether a teenager accused of criminal conduct will be charged with a crime in adult court or will be required to appear in juvenile court (Bower, 2007).
The fear of out-of-control juvenile crime and a coming generation of “super-predators,” compellingly if erroneously described publicly and to Congress in 1996, has undermined the traditional practice of treating young offenders as different from adult criminals—less culpable because of their age and more amenable to rehabilitation(Young & Gainsborough, 2000).
The first juvenile court was created in Chicago in 1899 and led to the development of a separate juvenile justice system nationwide (Young & Gainsborough, 2000). Juvenile courts are responsible for dealing with children who are accused of committing two types of offenses: status offenses, which are violations of laws with which only children can be charged; and delinquency offenses, which are acts committed by a child which, if committed by an adult, could result in criminal prosecution. The juvenile justice system was founded with the goal to serve the best interests of the child, with an understanding that youth possessed different needs than adults. As the overwhelming majority of research studies show, the adult criminal justice system is not equipped to meet the needs of youth offenders at all stages of the process, from trial to sentencing options to incarceration. The findings of the research show that justice is not served by forcing juveniles through a system never intended to process youth and that transfer laws have exacerbated the problems they sought to address.
Nunez and Tang disagree with both Hudson and Mason, Chapman, Chang and Simon with a study that shows that some jurors my lose neutrality when judging juveniles tried in adult courts, thus leaving the sanctions utilized irrelevant and the length of sentences longer, impeding the theory of hope presented by Hudson.
Kupchik (2006) reports, “More than 70 people are currently serving life without the possibility of parole sentences for crimes they committed before age 15.” (p. 271) He discusses the effectiveness of subjecting juveniles to the more rigid model of criminal court instead of the less formal and more flexible structure of juvenile court in order to reduce class and race bias. Kupchik determined that this was not possible because the predominant offender in both courts were Black or Latino. Kupchik concluded that the current sequential model of juvenile justice should be rejected because it is not consistent with the opinion and perspective that the general public currently holds about this issue.
Houchins, Puckett-Patterson, Crosby, Shippen and Jolivette (2009) compiled a list of barriers that prevent incarcerated youth from receiving a quality education. This study shows that these barriers are significant factors working against juvenile offenders having a legitimate chance of staying out of the criminal justice system after being released. Lewis (1998) and Witt (2003) compared the notion of trying a juvenile in an adult court rather than the alternative of intermediate sanctions. Both agreed that while the child’s mental state may suffer, a violent crime that would most likely be committed by an adult in any other instance should be adjudicated in an adult court.
Across America, juveniles a committing crimes that are more severe, dangerous and deadly. The crimes do not show any sign of stopping. The era when crimes committed by juveniles that were victimless and posed little or no threat to the social order of the community are long gone. According to Yanich (1999), almost one-third of all crimes shown on television were committed by juveniles. Most of these stories were focused on violent crime (particularly murder), and that approximately 80% were covered during the first block of the newscast. This interest in the rise of violent juvenile offenses reinforces the necessity to reevaluate the system in place and determine whether or not the system sufficiently accomplishes the task it is designed to complete.
As mentioned earlier, Mason, Chapman, Chang and Simons(2003) as well as Nunez and Tang (2003) suggest that juveniles that are given the opportunity to participate in rehabilitative sanctions before adjudication in adult court often earn themselves lighter bids when sentencing is handed out. Sanctions such as psychological therapy and education are important factors that ultimately lead to successfully rehabilitated inmates. Sanctions are important not only because they offer an opportunity to work towards a lighter sentence, but also because through observation and therapy, the court will have the chance to get to know the juvenile offender a little bit better. This could have very positive effects on sentencing.
In conclusion, it is no surprise that juveniles commit violent crimes just like adults; however, the juvenile justice system must maintain vigilance in order to combat the growing trend of violent young offenders. It is the job of the criminal justice system to bestow justice upon those who have committed a crime—no matter what age the person committing the crime was. In American culture, the trend to allow juveniles a few extra strikes and not seek the most extensive punishment that would be allowed for a particular crime. This is a practice that must be separated. It is agreed that juveniles who commit violent crimes such as murder are often too young to understand completely the ramifications of their actions. Yet, it would not be fair to the victim or the victim’s family to allow the juvenile offender the opportunity to receive a lesser sentence than the crime usually carries. Juveniles that commit the crimes of adults should be punished as adults, no matter the circumstances.
Bower, B. (2007, April). Violent justice: adult system fails young offenders. ScienceNews, 171, 243. Bower, B. (2007, November). Crime growth: early mental ills fuel young-adult offending. ScienceNews, 172, 308. Hudson, D. (2009). Adult time for adult crimes. American Bar Association Journal, 95, 139-141. Kupchik, A. (2006). Judging juveniles: prosecuting adolescents in adult and juvenile courts. New York University Press, 243-244. Mason, C., Chapman, D., Chang, S., & Simons, J. (2003) Impacting re-arrest rates among youth sentenced in adult court: an epidemiological examination of the juvenile sentencing advocacy act. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32, 73. Nunez, N. & Tang, C. (2003). Effect of defendant age and juror bias on judgement of culpability: what happens when a juvenile is tried as an adult? American Journal of Criminal Justice, 28(1), 239-251. Young, M. C., & Gainsborough, J. (2000). Prosecuting juveniles in adult court: an assessment of trends and consequences. The Sentencing Project, 1-10.