The essence of a criminal judicial system is to charge, arrest, and prosecute those who are guilty of a crime. Once the alleged offender as achieved the age of criminal responsibility, his or her age should not be an excuse that prevents the appropriate sentencing, once that minor is found guilty. However, the imposition of a life sentence for teenage offenders has been the subject of debate for years.

On one side is the idea that if you do the crime, you should do the time. While on the other, children advocates argue that the judicial system should be looking to rehabilitate children who are often times victims themselves and not condemn them to life behind bars.

There are many factors at play when the criminal offender is a child that should dictate the level of punishment that can be considered sufficient. Such as, by virtue of their age teenagers are still the legal responsibility of a parent or the state. Additionally, children rarely understand the lifelong consequence of wrong behavior and their limited life experience is sometimes part of the reason for the poor decisions they make.

What Is The Reality

There are a number of states with mandatory life imprisonment sentences for particular crimes. The state of Florida is amongst that grouping and is one of five states with the majority of teenagers serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the country.

In 2005, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch revealed the results of a study that was alarming. There were more than 2,000 offenders serving life in the prisons of United States for crimes that were committed before they became an adult. More than half that number had no previous conviction at the time of their sentencing. According to the report, some 26% of these offenders were not actually the “trigger” individual but participated in some other way in the commission of the murder.

A mandatory life sentence means that judges are not empowered to vary punishment when a child is convicted of murder. Somewhere along the way, society has become afraid of children who make serious mistakes and the remedy has been to prosecute them as adults and throw them behind bars.

What is the Solution?

There is no doubt that once the court is satisfied that a child has committed a crime, he or she should be punished. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and age of innocence should not negate the responsibility of a society to exercise the foundation of our legal system; that there are consequences to every behavior. However, we do ourselves no favor by locking up teenagers for life and believe that that will keep us safe.

A child is still a child. There is no evidence to show that sentencing teenagers to life imprisonment deter others and since in most instances it is without parole, there is no rehabilitation that can benefit society. Because of their age, teenagers have a great chance of turning their life around way before their death. While there is no discrediting that murder is a serious offense, we fool ourselves if we think that there is merit in punishing a 13-year-old child in the same way we do a 40-year-old adult.

The solution must be to find a suitable punishment for our teenagers. The law should be designed to allow judges at sentencing to consider the factors associated with each case and impose penalties that are in keeping with the nature of the crime and the profile of the offender.

Florida defense lawyer Erika Valcarcel is a Sarasota criminal defense lawyer with extensive legal experience seeking justice for her clients. Call (941) 363-7900 today and let Valcarcel be the legal advocate who will stand beside you in court.

View All Blogs