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Should Juvenile Offenders Be Tried as Adults? Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 4th, 2021

Introduction

  • The incident when John Mohammed and John Malvo, obtained an M-16 rifle and used it in killing nine victims, injured two, and stroked fear into a nation (Lluncor, 2003).
  • The Columbine tragedy that resulted to distraught of students, who, with guns in their possession, were able to forcefully exhibit their rage. Opponents argue that these boys were inspired by hateful music or pushed to the edge by insensitive bullies. Yet, without guns, these boys would not have been able to end the lives of classmates nor ravage the psyche of America. (Lluncor, 2003).
  • At a rough estimate, about 38,000 Americans die each year of gunshot wounds, almost as many as are killed on the roads. Fewer than half of these deaths are homicides. Together, accidents and suicides account for 54% of firearms deaths. Among 15-24-year-olds, deaths by gunshot went up by 40% between 1985 and 1991 (The Economist, 1994).
  • Based on statistics, nearly one million eighth graders admit getting drunk and another 1.2 million twelfth graders are considered binge drinkers. Heroin use by young adults has doubled from 1991 to 1996 and even teenage compulsive gambling is on the rise.
  • Alcohol alone kills 10,000 young adults each year. Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to other risky behaviors, such as drunk driving, unprotected sex, date rape, suicide and violence.

These are just some of the facts and figures serving a very good example of juvenile-initiated crimes. What is quite alarming is that these juvenile related crimes are becoming highly prevalent, bringing more and bigger problems to society. Now, the question is what can the government do about it? How can these crimes be prevented from continuously increasing? Should these juvenile law offenders be tried as adults?

Crimes in Relation to Deviant Behaviors

Deviance is defined as the recognized violation of cultural norms. One familiar type of deviance is crime, or the violation of norms a society formally enacts into criminal law. Meanwhile, juvenile delinquency is under the sub category of deviance. Deviance encompasses a wide range of other acts of nonconformity, from variations in hairstyles to murder.

The psychological explanations of deviance are concentrated on individual abnormalities involving personality. What is viewed as criminal varies over both time and place. What all crime has in common is that perceived violations bring about response from a formal criminal justice system. According to the statistics given by the FBI, there are actually three types of crimes being committed. First, crimes against the person – or violent crimes – are defined as crimes against people that involve violence or the threat of violence. Examples are murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. Secondly, crimes against property – or property crimes – are defined as crimes that involve theft of property belonging to others. Examples are burglary, larceny-theft, auto theft, and arson. A third category, victimless crimes, is defined, as violations of law in which there are no readily apparent victims. Examples are gambling, prostitution, and the use of illegal drugs.

In answer to these deviant or criminal behaviors, the government has established a criminal justice system, which aimed at upholding the law and eventually minimizes the crime rate. The criminal justice system is composed of three components – the police, the courts, and the punishment of convicted offenders. The police represent the point of contact between the public and the criminal justice system. They are responsible for maintaining public order by uniformly enforcing the law. The courts, on the other hand, determine a person’s guilt or innocence.

Has this system been successful in the prevention of crime? Does the government need to initiate more laws and regulation to prevent these deviant behaviors? Or is it really safe to say that the entire citizen has been tolerating these juvenile deviant behaviors that are why it has not stopped from growing?

Obviously, the US government is not tolerating these crimes, or these deviant behaviors. The laws and the judicial system can attest to that. And establishing more and stricter laws is not the only solution in preventing these continuously increasing deviant behaviors, nor putting up stricter standards of behavior because these will make the situation worst.

We must always remember that deviance started from the family affecting the whole society. What we have in each family, what we see in our society, what we see in our environment is a clear reflection of the kind of people a certain society is bringing up – whether it is a deviance to the society or not. Thus, what the government should do is provide funding on seminars and/or learning workshops for the parents and all other members of the society.

Juvenile law offenders being tried as adults are certainly not the solution to the problem. It is just like imposing death penalty to an adolescent law offender thus preventing him/her from any second chances.

Juveniles for Death Penalty?

Death penalty is the most dreaded punishment to adults who will be proven guilty of committing heinous crimes. Thus if juveniles will be tried as adults, it would mean that death penalty can be imposed to them also.

The numerous advantages and benefits claimed to be part of having death penalty are:

  1. Incapacitation of the criminal – Capital punishment permanently removes the worst criminals from society and should prove much cheaper and safer for the rest of us than long term or permanent incarceration. It is self evident that dead criminals cannot commit any further crimes, either within prison or after escaping or being released from it
  2. Cost – Money is not an inexhaustible commodity and the state may very well better spend our (limited) resources on the old, the young and the sick rather than the long term imprisonment of murderers, rapists etc.
  3. Vengeance or retribution – Execution is a very real punishment rather than some form of “rehabilitative” treatment, the criminal is made to suffer in proportion to the offence. Although whether there is a place in a modern society for the old fashioned principal of “lex talens” (an eye for an eye) is a matter of personal opinion
  4. Deterrence – There are numerous and great examples that in those countries (e.g. Singapore), which almost always carry out death sentences there is generally far less serious crime. This tends to indicate that the death penalty is a deterrent, but only where execution is an absolute certainty

Death penalty has been banned in many countries. In the United States, an earlier move to eliminate capital punishment has now been reversed and more and more states are resorting to capital punishment for serious offenses such as murder. Today, death penalty or capital punishment is virtually abolished in all of Western Europe and most of Latin America. America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (except Israel) retain the death penalty for certain crimes and impose it with varying frequency (http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/thoughts.html, 2004).

As a support for these arguments on death penalty, a U. S. Department of Justice F. B. I. statistical data highlighted the fact that most criminals released back into society commit additional felonies. Two out of three death row prisoners had prior felony convictions, and one in twelve actually had been convicted of prior homicides. Hence, removing any chance of further contact with innocent human beings, by carrying out the death sentence, effectively assures that this criminal will not commit another crime minor or not. The crimes he or she would have perpetrated on future victims have essentially been deterred (Oberg, 2000). Furthermore, when speaking of its monetary advantages, death penalty is the most efficient manner of dealing with perpetrators of heinous crimes. The long-term financial advantages of the death penalty are difficult to pinpoint, but can be estimated by comparing its costs with those of sustaining convicted criminals of similar crimes, who have received sentences of life without parole. The average annual cost for cell facilities alone is $34,200, which is considering that not all inmates in this category would be housed in maximum-security facilities. Figuring an annual cost increase of 2%, with approximately $75,000 trial and appeal expenses, the total for housing a life without parole prisoner for 50 years is $3.01 million. This is almost twice the cost of processing a death penalty case. An average of $60,000 per year for 6 years on Death Row, with an annual cost increase of 2%, and approximately $1.5 million for trial and appeals costs, the total for death penalty cases is $1.88 million. This is well below that of life without parole cases. Often, these figures are skewed to give weight to the more widely believed view that death penalty cases are more expensive, which is true at the very beginning of the case due to the increased costs of the appeals process. Clearly, however, this is not the case in the long run (Oberg, 2000).

To add up death penalty is neither a cruel nor an unusual punishment. United States Constitution’s 8th Amendment related that “cruel and unusual” punishment to methods used in ages past. The 8th Amendment was created to outlaw practices such as burning criminals at the stake, boiling them in oil, or “drawing and quartering”, whereas the convicted felon was tied hands and feet to four horses and literally torn to pieces. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States declared in its 1976 Gregg vs. Georgia decision that “the punishment of death does not invariably violate the Constitution” (Oberg, 2000).

Proponents of the death penalty do not insist that the program is perfect. The lengthy appeals in death penalty cases often frustrate everyone involved, from families of victims to prosecutors and investigators alike. Most people believe that the appeals are for review of the guilt or innocence of the accused perpetrator of the crime, when in all reality the appeal only evaluates the sentence of death. This system would be much more efficient if the appeals process was instead focused on reviewing the finding of guilt or innocence. The sentence of death could then be carried out without further delay, once guilt has been upheld. In this manner, true justice for victims, their families, and for society as a whole, will have been bestowed (Oberg, 2000).

Can Death Penalty be Imposed to Convicted Adolescents?

In February 1963, Gary McCorkell, a 19-year-old sex offender, was scheduled to be hanged. But just days before his execution, the then Liberal cabinet of Lester Person commuted McCorkell to life in prison. Less than 20 years later, McCorkell was arrested, tried, and convicted for the kidnapping and rape of a 10-year old Tennessee boy. He was sentenced to 63 years in prison. Prior to leaving Canada, he was sought by Metro Police in the attempted murder of an 11-year old boy. What this has gained? Had McCorkell been executed in 1963, two boys would never have had to go through the horror of being sexually abused. These individuals may themselves become sex offenders, as many sex offenders were sexually abused as children.

Such is an example of adolescent related cases where death penalty could have been a lot useful. In 2004, an argument regarding death penalty and adolescents have been raised. The US Supreme court has implied that the death penalty for teenage murderers should be minimized because this is considered as a “cruel and unusual punishment”. The court has further implied that moving down the verdict of capital punishment is just because society has reached a consensus that adolescents are less culpable for their actions than adults (Savage, 2004).

Going back in 1998, the court had already struck down the death penalty for crimes committed before an offender reached the age of 16. A year later the court decided to decline the extension of not putting the 6 and 17 year old murderers into the death penalty sentence. This was lifted on the grounds that there was no consensus if it was really immoral to execute people for crimes committed as older teenagers (Savage, 2004).

However, it should also be noted that as early as 1989, the number of states that were allowing and carrying out the juvenile death penalty has been continuously descending. Eventually, all other countries except Somalia have formally rejected the punishment for juveniles Savage, 2004). Hence it’s the US and Somalia only, versus all other countries that allow death penalty for adolescents.

Now it is a big question if adolescent murders should really be subjected to death penalty in the same manner that they will be subjected to trials like what the normal adult offenders has been subjected to. Will it provide greater justice to the victims and to the adolescent law offender him/herself?

Conclusion

The justice system is there to uphold proper and fair justice to everybody. It aims not to punish the people who may have committed some mistakes in the past. It is established not to scare the people of what could happen to them once a big mistake was done. In fact, the justice system is establish to maintain law and order while ensuring that the people’s actions are aligned with what is right and proper coupled with the opportunity to learn and develop as a normal citizen. It is because of this that the justice system is geared towards correcting the mistakes committed and changing the behavior and line of thinking of the person who has committed a certain mistake or crime.

Thus, if juveniles will be tried as adults (thereby giving chances for death penalty to be imposed upon them), they will not be given anymore chance to correct the mistake they have done and learn from it. They will not be given any chance to prove the world that they can change and that they can be a better person.

It can be argued that today’s law should impose stricter punishments that will help in lessening the number of heinous crimes. It is indeed becoming very dangerous to live nowadays, and people can only be assured that there would be lesser heinous crimes and lesser victims if we can have such law. Civilians and even the most ordinary people can feel protected and safe, there is such kind of law. However stricter punishment does not mean subjecting the adolescent law offenders to trials which are normally for adults. It is certainly not the only possible approach. Instead, other form of strict punishments such as imprisonment, community service and other forms of learning and personality shaping activities should be used. This allows the youth crime offenders to be corrected and punished while also making sure that they can learn and improve themselves to be a better citizen in the future… however long that may take them.

References

  1. “Capital punishment.” 2004 viewed Duhaime.org.
  2. “Capital Punishment: Pros”. 1998.
  3. “History of Death Penalty”. 2006.
  4. Lluncor, Ben. Gun Control In America. 2003.
  5. Oberg, Cynthia G. May 2000.”The Death Penalty – True Cause for Justice” [online].
  6. Savage, Charlie. October 2004. “Supreme Court justices weigh limit on death penalty.” The Boston Globe. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
  7. Home on the Range. 1994. Web.
  8. “Thoughts on the death penalty” 2004.
  9. Treatment for Adolescent Depression. 2004.
  10. What is Deviance? 2004.
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