An Argument Against the Treatment of Juvenile Criminals as Should Juveniles Be Tried As Adults
Criminal offenders constitute both adult and juvenile offenders. Before the amendment of the law, there were no distinctions in the sentencing of adults and juveniles. They were both treated equally, and sentencing laws applied to them without any discrimination. (Feld 43) Punishments such as death and life sentences were issued to juvenile offenders who were found guilty of their crimes. Recently, however, there is an ongoing debate about the treatment of juvenile offenders as adult criminals.
The various States in the United States have changed their sentencing laws to favor juveniles and avoid punishments such as death sentence despite their crimes. In such states, it is argued that treating juveniles as adults and sentencing them the same way is unconstitutional. (Feld 52) On the other hand, some people view that the adult sentencing laws should apply to juveniles. This paper entails an argument against the treatment of juvenile criminals as adult offenders since they lack the emotional maturity of adults. It is also unconstitutional and contrary to moral perspectives in the society.
A juvenile is considered an individual between the age of ten and eighteen years old. However, some States in the United States set sixteen years old as the maximum age for juveniles. Adult sentencing laws apply to anyone above the age of eighteen years old. The justice system offers different for juveniles from adults. Juveniles, therefore, have different rights and protections from adults.
According to the constitution, juveniles are entitled to a jury of judges rather their peers. (Myers 72) They also cannot be tried publicly as the case happens to adults. The justice system also affords juveniles certain protections that do not apply to adult courts. Their records are closed and cannot be used as references for the rest of their life. Juveniles also have the right to be released if their offenses do not involve any violence. (Myers 78)
In the United States, juveniles are sentenced as adults despite the provisions of the constitution. According to reports, more than three thousand juveniles are serving sentences in adult prisons after receiving adult trials. The Supreme Court However considers such sentences unconstitutional although juveniles may seem to have “diminished culpability.” (Myers 114) Sentencing juveniles as adults constitute a violation of their civil rights that the constitution provides them.
Previous cases where juveniles have been tried as adults also evidence the unfairness of adult sentencing for juveniles. The case Roper v. Simmons involved an adult trial for a minor where Simmons was sentenced to life in prison. In the case, Simmons committed a capital murder crime when he was seventeen years old. Later after attaining the age of eighteen years, Simmons was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His attempts to appeal the decision were unsuccessful, and the court rejected his application for post-conviction relief.
However, it was proven that the Constitution forbids the execution of a juvenile who committed a crime when under the age of eighteen years. The Missouri Supreme Court withdrew the death sentence and instead issued life in prison without the possibility of release. Despite the substitution of the death sentence for life imprisonment, the trial of Simmons as an adult was unfair. The court should have tried Simmons as a juvenile and provide him the protections and rights of juveniles.
The case of Roper v. Simmons presented the issue whether the constitution allows the execution of a juvenile who is guilty of a capital crime. According to the court’s judgment and interpretation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, the law prohibits the death penalty sentencing for juveniles. In the modern society, “evolving standards of decency” should also not allow the sentencing of juveniles as adults. The society also views persons under the age of eighteen years “less culpable than the average criminal”, and it stands to reason that juveniles should not be tried in courts as adults.
The conclusions of the court in the case of Roper v. Simmons also offer insight into the distinctions between adults and juveniles. According to the court report, juveniles are immature, and their moral reprehension must be lower than adults. Juveniles are also vulnerable and susceptible to influences in their environment compared to adults. Juveniles also struggle to establish their identity in the society, and a single heinous crime does not provide evidence of a depraved person.
The trying of children as adults also overlooks the dysfunction in the society that leads them to commit delinquent acts. In the United States, many children encounter problems such as abuse, neglect, poverty and exposure to community violence. A child that grows up in such an environment is likely to suffer emotional defects that increase their predisposition to violence and other criminal acts. (Fagan 47)
Due to their age, juveniles may fail to control their emotional or psychological state, and this contributes to their misdemeanors. Adult sentencing fails to take into consideration the upbringing of a child that may influence their criminal acts. Juveniles should, therefore, be tried differently from adults and receive preferential treatment.
Adolescent development research also proves that it is unfair to sentence minors or juveniles the same way as adults. According to the findings of the research, children have an undeveloped brain, and this affects their level of judgment. (Fagan 63) The brain slowly develops during the growth process and becomes fully developed in adulthood.
Before adulthood, the undeveloped state of the brain causes children to suffer poor judgments and inability to assess risks and implications of their actions. Minors are also more susceptible to peer pressure compared to adults, and they lack the power to escape harmful environments. (Fagan 70) Peer pressure, exposure to violence and poor judgment, therefore, increases the chances of minors committing crimes. Due to these differences between adults and minors, juveniles should not be sentenced as adults.
From a moral perspective, it is also unfair to judge adults and juveniles the same way. Juveniles are children, and it would be moral depravity to allow the execution of juveniles that may result from an adult trial. (Feld 98) Despite the crime, the execution of a juvenile cannot be morally justified. In a moral sense, the correctional facilities seek to rehabilitate individuals. Juveniles are at an age where they are developing, and it is easier to rehabilitate them compared to adults. It is, therefore, fair to sentence juveniles differently from adults.
In conclusion, this paper presents several reasons opposing the sentencing of juveniles as adults. In the human society, adults have the moral obligation of protecting children since they represent the future generations. Allowing the sentencing of minors as adults is contradictory to this moral obligation.
The law also does not support such sentencing, and it is unconstitutional to try juveniles as adults. In the case of Roper v. Simmons, the court highlights important distinctions between juveniles and adult offenders. The differences support the argument against the sentencing laws that allow the equal sentencing of adults and juveniles.