Friday, April 25, 2008

More adult absurdity

They're at it again. An area prosecutor wants to try a 13 year-old as an adult. For murder. It defies all logic. I know I posted this rant a few days ago, but this kind of nonsense just really makes my blood boil. A 13 year-old can't have lawful sexual contact of any kind. A 13 year-old can't enter into a meaningful contract. A 13 year-old can't even choose which parent to live with in a divorce. See, these things all involve adult decisions and in these realms we recognize that even a very mature 13 year-old still just doesn't have the tools and skills necessary to make reliable decisions. The choices the kid makes in these situations are just void as a matter of law.

Yet, when it comes to deciding how to respond to a 13 year-old who does something bad, all of a sudden we forget all the very valid reasons that we have for treating kids who engage in adult activities like kids. We intervene when kids try to engage in adult activities, like sex or signing contracts, because we, the adults, know that no matter how smart and wise the kids think they are, they're simply incapable of understanding all of the possible consequences of their actions. They may understand on the surface that sex can lead to disease or pregnancy. They may understand that firing a gun at someone can kill them. But they generally can't understand the permanence of these things. The enormity and finality of them. Engaging in adult activities doesn't make them adults: it makes them kids in over their heads.

So it really shouldn't matter what crime the 13 year-old is accused of committing. The severity of the crime shouldn't factor into the equation at all. What should matter is the kid's age and individual characteristics. At 13, a kid is just flat too young to be thrown away in the adult criminal justice system. I am unwilling to condemn a kid to life in prison when he is too young to have made a fully developed, rational, knowing decision to commit murder. The mere fact that he committed the murder (speaking hypothetically here; the actual child is, of course, innocent unless proven guilty!) does not even begin to prove that adult decision-making preceded that action.

There are legitimate alternatives to change the path of this kid's development. Pursue the case as a juvenile case, and the state can have custody of him, in correctional and rehabitational facilities, for at least 9 years. If that seems woefully short for murder, keep in mind that that is almost half of his life. Think how much you grew and developed between 13 and 22. Let's just give it a shot and see if by age 22, we can have helped this kid change into a person who can be a solid, respectable, and productive member of society. Or they could pursue it as an extended juvenile jurisdiction case. This would give the state the option to switch him to an adult punishment once he actually reaches adulthood if he violates the terms of his juvenile punishment. It's a happy medium between the juvenile and adult systems.

Aren't those options preferable to saying this kid blew his one and only chance at life with one bad decision at the age of 13? Yes, it was a really, really bad decision with very permanent consequences. But no 13 year-old should ever be sentenced to life in an adult prison (the mandatory prison term for an adult murder conviction). That's just absurd.

UPDATE: The DA proclaims that this kid just cannot be rehabilitated. Despite the fact that we have no evidence this kid has any prior history of criminal activity. What an unbelievably cynical and hopeless attitude from the county's top prosecutor. Another reason why I don't ever want to be a prosecutor: I do not ever want to be able to write off another human being (and a child, no less) that easily.

1 comment:

Jay said...

I'll never agree with this facet of the law. This should not be discretionary.

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