Two Wisconsin girls, both 12 years old when they stabbed their classmates 19 times, are causing a heated debate of whether or not they will be tried in an adult court. In Wisconsin, however, any juvenile over the age of 10 who is charged with homicide or attempted homicide will be automatically tried as adults, which makes the debate moot and academic. Here is a list of certain points you should consider regarding this issue.
1. If they are convicted as juveniles, they would gain freedom from the system at age 25.
2. If the girls are tried in an adult court and found guilty, they could be in prison for the next 65 years.
3. They would first serve their prison term in a juvenile facility, and then transferred to an adult prison at the age of 18, which leaves plenty of room for the girls to become targets of abuse.
So the big question now is should we show sympathy for the girls or the victim? Should their punishment be reduced even if the crime they committed is something only adults are supposed to be capable of doing? Is it okay to accept the argument that they are unaware of the gravity of the crime at the time that they committed it? Isn’t it a fact that the only difference between a juvenile and an adult suspect is age?
Juvenile crimes on the rise are not something society should ignore. But those who oppose trying juveniles in an adult court argue that it does not benefit the suspect or the society, if they are punished the same way as adults.
For a juvenile case to be transferred to an adult criminal court, it has to be eligible for a waiver. That is, the judge waives any protection that a juvenile court provides to a minor offender, treating him as an adult that should be punished accordingly. Now the waiver can be granted if the case meets the following factors:
- The minor is older.
- The charge is a particularly serious offense.
- Lengthy juvenile record already exists.
- Any rehabilitation efforts in the past have been unsuccessful.
- Youth services required to help the minor would be lengthy.
Whether or not you agree to invoke the waiver petition depends on which side of the fence you are on. But the fact remains that trying minors as adults has its share of pros and cons.
List of Pros of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. Deter and minimize crimes committed by minors
There is no denying that crimes committed by minors are on the rise. According to the Office of Justice Programs, the number of juvenile arrests made in 2012 is over 1 million, which may be alarming but is actually 37% less than the arrests made in 2003. Based on the violent crime index, aggravated assault has the highest number of arrests, followed by robbery, forcible rape, and murder and non-negligent manslaughter. If these offenders will be tried as adults and punished to the full extent of the law, they would probably think twice about committing a crime or violating the law.
2. Brings justice to the victims
Some offenses may be forgivable, but not for extreme crimes similar to what the Wisconsin girls committed. Taking a life is murder regardless of the age of the offender, and the penalties to be imposed must not discriminate. After all, the victim’s life will never be returned, and the family will permanently lose their loved one. It is only right that justice is served accordingly, so that the victims and their families will also feel a sense of justice.
3. Correct a case of blind justice
One of the problems in juvenile courts is that they have a tendency to focus on the age of the suspect and not on the criminal act and the reason that it was committed. Even when a minor shows no remorse for the crime committed, the court still has the tendency to exercise leniency. Say a boy’s found guilty and then imprisoned in a juve facility. When he is released at age 25, what are the odds that he would become a full-fledge adult criminal?
4. Trial by jury
In a juvenile court, the judge makes all the decisions. But if minors are tried in an adult court, there will be a jury that will help decide whether or not they are guilty. So their fate falls in the hands of a group of individuals and not just a single person.
List of Cons of Juveniles Being Tried as Adults
1. Minors will be put at risk
Similar to the concern of the lawyer and families of the Wisconsin girls, young offenders are at risk of being sent to an adult correctional facility if they are tried in an adult court. Imagine what would become of these young individuals when mixed with adult prisoners with horrific criminal records. How will these minors handle different situations in an adult prison?
2. Give the impression of lost hope
Some opponents argue that not all young offenders end up as full-fledged criminals. So throwing them in jail with adult offenders would take away any hope of rehabilitation. There is even a high probability that they would come out of prison a hardened criminal.
Another reason that juveniles should be given a leeway is that they don’t always make responsible decisions. According to Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, “Adolescent decision making is characterized by emotional and cognitive immaturity, intense peer pressure and heightened attitude toward risk. Their inability to consistently make responsible decisions makes them less blameworthy than adults.”
3. Fewer varieties of punishment
In an adult court, criminals can only end up in prison, and even risk being given the death penalty. This gives minor offenders very little option when serving the terms of their sentence. Whereas in a juvenile court, offenders are given curfews, put under house arrest or sent to counseling. The problem with these punishments, however, is that they effectively take away a valuable lesson that a juvenile is supposed to learn while serving the terms of his sentence. Now, if he was in jail, he is likely to regret the choices he made.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.