In 2011, 12-year-old Christian Fernandez was charged with first-degree murder of his two-year-old brother. The toddler had been regularly abused before that; the death was caused by beatings. The mother of the boys new about the abuse her younger son was subjected to but did not do anything to interfere (Hunt, 2011a).
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According to Bechtold and Cauffman (2014) the main difference between juvenile and adult court consists in the fact that the former is mostly aimed at the rehabilitation of the convict and his or her reintegration into society. This is mainly caused by the developmental differences between the youth and the elders which include, for instance, “underdeveloped self-control, heightened vulnerability to outside [i.e., peer] influence, and other developmental immaturities” (Bechtold & Cauffman, 2014, p. 126).
As a result, youngsters are considered to be less “blameworthy” than adults, and their penalties are less severe. However, if rehabilitation is deemed impossible (for example, when the crimes of the juveniles are especially grave), they may be tried as adults.
Despite the gravity of his crime, Fernandez escaped this fate. Being tried as a youngster, Fernandez avoided the death penalty but faced the possibility of being sentenced to life (Hunt, 2011a). The decision to try him as a juvenile appears to be reasonable and can be explained in the following way.
First of all, the gravity of the mother’s negligence should be pointed out. The trial she was supposed to face is a just measure; however, it does not change the harmful effects of her criminal inaction, due to which one of her children is dead, and the other faces the possibility of being sentenced to life at the age of twelve years (Hunt, 2011a, para. 5-14).
Apart from that, this is not the only way in which his mother and other elders around Christian have mistreated the boy. It has been proved that while parental involvement may prevent juvenile delinquency, insufficient parental attention along with family being involved in criminal activity, including substance abuse, are serious factors that can cause juvenile delinquency (Reingle & Maldonado-Molina, 2012; Schwalbe, Macy, Day & Fraser, 2008; Davis, Lurigio & Herman, 2013).
Fernandez was a subject of physical abuse; his stepfather had shot himself in front of the family. The grandmother of the boy had substance issues, and his stepfather was sentenced for sexual assault (Hunt, 2011b, para. 2-9). It is clear that the environment in which the boy found himself did not encourage his ethical and moral development.
Finally, according to the boy’s defense lawyers, psychologists have evaluated the psychological and emotional level of Fernandez development to be lower than natural for this age. Given the treatment he was receiving from the elders around him, it is not surprising.
What is more important, the psychologists have pointed out that this situation could be rectified (Hunt, 2011b). Therefore, believing Fernandez to be “beyond” rehabilitation and reintegration into society would be too hasty a decision. Given the gravity of the act and the public reaction to it, the rehabilitation is definitely going to be a most painful process. Still, an attempt at helping the boy appears to be necessary to undertake.
Naturally, the action of Christian cannot be regarded as something permissible or forgivable, and he must realize it. Still, the circumstances in which the boy had been living for his entire life did not provide him with the necessary conditions for proper development.
His delinquent actions are the result of improper upbringing, which is not his fault. Since psychologists claim that his mental and emotional underdevelopment can be rectified, depriving him of a chance for rehabilitation appears to be undermining the purpose of the justice system. Given the fact juvenile justice system is aimed at rehabilitation and is much better suited for it, it seems that Christian should be tried as a juvenile despite the gravity of his act.
Bechtold, J., & Cauffman, E. (2014). Tried as an adult, housed as a juvenile: A tale of youth from two courts incarcerated together. Law and Human Behavior, 38(2), 126–138.
Davis, R. C., Lurigio, A. J., & Herman, S. A. (2013). Victims of crime (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Hunt, D. (2011a). Jacksonville 12-year-old charged with first-degree murder of brother. CBSNews.
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Hunt, D. (2011b). Defense: 12-year-old charged in toddler’s death was abused, neglected as child. CBSNews.
Reingle, J., & Maldonado-Molina, M. (2012). Victimization and Violent Offending: An Assessment of the Victim-Offender Overlap among Native American Adolescents and Young Adults. International Criminal Justice Review, 22(2), 123-138. doi:10.1177/1057567712443966
Schwalbe, C., Macy, R., Day, S., & Fraser, M. (2008). Classifying Offenders: An Application of Latent Class Analysis to Needs Assessment in Juvenile Justice. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6(3), 279-294. doi:10.1177/1541204007313383