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QotD: Adults

Question: Should people under the age of 18 be tried as adults?

My Answer: A six year old that commits murder may not know any better, but what about a sixteen year old? Where do you draw the line? I think the courts system does its best, but a black and white line may make things simpler for everyone, and I'd put that line at fifteen. Under = child, over = smart enough to know better.

You are encouraged to answer the Question of the Day for yourself in the comments or on your blog.

16 Responses to "QotD: Adults"

  1. It is a fine, blurry line. A definitive line wouldn't solve much, except to make the job easier on the judge. Young children, of course, don't know the right/wrong of it, and therefore should not be tried as adults. But children as young as 11 or 12 do know, generally, their actions and what will happen if they, for example, shoot someone. I think that the justice system, with all of its quirks and occasional flaws and mistakes, does make the right choice the majority of the time.

  2. I think the line makes cases harder. There are some adults that are of ... um limited mental capacity who may not know that doing something may be unlawful.

    I think more things need to be taken in to account like intent, past records, and a plot to cover it up doesn't make things easier for a 16 year old.

    True all those things are taken in, but a line only makes things harder and more newsworthy which in my opinion leads to a different problem.

  3. I should also add that I do think that this method we have works better than anything else we have. this isn't the problem but there are other areas that need to be addressed in our judicial system.

  4. Your goal of simplification is certainly always desirable, but when considering rules for a system of criminal law shouldn't the primary concern be with delivering a just result?

    Simplicity has its place in civil cases, where expediency of the system is nearly as critical for our society as always getting the "right" result. It seems to me though that the verdict in a criminal case needs to appropriately fit that particular individual.

    Also, your concept of "smart enough to know better" is already an intrinsic element of nearly all criminal charges; the mens rea, or "guilty mind" requirement of a crime is one of the foundations of our system of laws and very precisely addresses your concern. In fact, the reason that we have this adult/child dichotomy in our laws is to try to guide judges and juries when evaluating any given individual's state of mind.

    Finally, I do agree that it can be hard to tell what is appropriate for any given person, but a bright-line approach (at either 18 or 15) will be broken when it under-punishes those few wicked pre-teens and will be broken when it over-punishes those of any age who may indeed be incapable of having formed a "guilty mind" because of maturity or indeed, a mental handicap.

  5. Derek makes really good points. I'll throw in a few more. In my view constraining judges with absolute rules is bad. Enacting such an arbitrary determinant of 'adulthood' for criminal cases is probably worse than manditory minimums. People like to think that the legal profession is a science that can be regulated into some precision. Justice is an art. Asking someone what an adult is, is has had as aksing someone what pornography is. You know it when you see it.

    That said I would also say that I think that it is wrong to try individuals as adults that do not enjoy all of the legal benefits that come from being an adult. If you're going decide that 15 years olds are adults in the eyes of the law then lower drinking ages, lower age of concent, lower the selective service induction age and any of a number of statuets that define at what age someone can do a thing. When looked at this way it quickly becomes clear that 'should know better' and 'adult' are two entirely different things.

  6. Okay, then why not set the line at 15 but make that the mental age of the patient, not the physical age, as determined by a panel of psychologists?

  7. But why bother with that construction of a "mental age?" It loses the benefit of simplicity. What does it add?

    Also, the presence of the requisite mens rea in anybody can be testified to at court by a psychiatrist.

  8. When considdering the possibility of life encarseration or even death simplification should not be a goal. Justice should be the goal and justice is rarely simple.

  9. Make it 13

  10. I don't really think it matters to much what age you pick.. although if I had to give an age I would say 16. (In Canada, thats the age you are legal to have sex... ) However thats not really the issue.. if they are tried as adults they are also required to go to Adult prison, and I don't their is a person alive who thinks a 16 year old could survive in a adult jail.

    So give them length of sentences as an adult but keep them separate? That doesn't make much sense either.

  11. For the most part, if we're going to set 18 as the age we can drink, vote, get married without anyone's permission, and enlist in the military, then I'd tend to think we should also set that as an age for "adulthood" in a criminal sense. However, I would give judges the freedom to try younger defendants as adults were they presented the right justification for it.

    Getting a little off topic here, but on a side note, the poster above incorrectly stated you're legal to have sex in Canada at 16. The age of consent here is 14. Here's a reference off Google.

  12. Oops... Must have gotten the numbers mixed up.

  13. Question: Should there be a legal "age of consent?" If so, what should it be? If not, why not? My Answer: Without some age of consent, it would not be illegal for a 30 year-old to screw a ten year-old....

  14. WE must get back to the basics. We have a broken Juvenile Justice system. A broken system can only yeild "broken results." Juvenile justice should not be done away with.... but rather be brought back to the basics in it. Children, should NEVER be tried as adults. Eighteen is the line.

    Kids under eighteen aren't even allowed to sign a binding contract and be held accountable financially. Nor are they allowed to vote on these types of issues as of yet. They are deemed not "responsible enough" to make those decisions. Most kids have no idea how far reaching the law and government are in their life. They should not have their whole lives thrown away before they even realize that they can have a life or make choices .

    The solution is impowering laws that are pro-family and pro-parenting. The government does not know more about children than parents and should back them up instead of separating families and tying the hands of good parents in raising their children to be productive citizens. The money needs to go into education and prevention rather than locking kids up for life. Someone allowed us enough room and opportunity to learn and grow. We were given a safe environment to learn to exercise good judgement and develope good moral character. We deserved it and so do they, simply by virtue of being a child.

    It must begin with us.... choose to protect and fight for the children rather than to try justifying when itis okay to throw them away.

    Get back to the real Juvenile Justice roots.

    P. Udall

  15. I believe that if you are old enough to commit an adult crime then you are old enough to do the adult time. It's bullcrap that a 17 year old murderer can be out at the age of 21 and be done. a murderer is a murderer and they all need to rot in prison for the damage they have done!

  16. Children are considered children in every aspect of the laws goverened by the United States and should be considered children in the United States court systems. This means that the juvenile system needs to be reformed to meet todays needs of the children in the system. To put a 12 to 16 year old in an adult prison will do no one any good , not the child, not society when they are released into a world they have no comcept how to survive in except for what they learned in prison, what type of person do you think will be coming out.

    We need a juvenile system that will give these kids mental, emotion and rehab. help. To help them help themselves ,and to keep them as long as it takes to achieve this goal to become a productive citizen in society. A blended sentence is one option where they go to djj and get reviewed every 3 years. To me this option is much better than to throw a child away in the adult prisons for 30 years with no help at all.