As many of you are aware, we currently have two front page stores regarding minors being sentenced as adults. One involves two near adult minors who beat a 7 year old to death, albeit unintentionally, it appears. The other involves a 14 year old who shoots and kills his stepfather.
These two stories hit me differently. Rather, the use of adult charges hit me differently.
How do we determine when adult charges are suitable for a minor? Well, more and more, the severity of the crime determines which brand of charges are applied. However, this logic nullifies the purpose of a separate juvenile justice system, which was created because kids do not have an adult grasp of consequence and are far more prone to impulsive behavior.
In the case involving the two 17 year olds, I wholeheartedly agree with adult sentencing. Why? Two reasons, really - not only are they already very close to the age when adult sentencing would apply anyway, but the drawn-out nature of their crime doesn't exactly make a case for impulse.
The other case, however, involved a spontaneous action provoked by an unworthy catalyst, committed by a very young person. This speaks to impulse AND an inaccurate grasp of consequence.
So much of sentencing depends on the defendant's understanding of their actions. Not only can you be found not guilty by reason of insanity, a defendant's grasp on the situation can be considered mitigating circumstance which warrants a lighter sentence. Heck, we established an entire parallel justice system for kids based on the belief that they do not understand action and consequence the way that adults do.
Now, we've got the science to prove it. Thanks to advancement in MRI technology, among other things, we now know for a fact that a significant amount of development occurs during the teenage years. Many areas of the brain are affected by this development, but changes in the prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for things like a conscience, impulse control and emotion, is perhaps the most outwardly apparent. It is exactly why that reckless, moody stereotype exists for teenagers.
Given this information, how should we structure charging minors as adults?