Should we have different sets of laws or penalties for lawbreaking based on age?
Yes, but they need to be equitable.If we do have different laws, is it ever appropriate to charge youths with "adult" crimes? If so, when and why? Who decides?
No. Not unless we are willing to allow children to be treated like adults in all other areas of life.Are these judgements being pursued fairly throughout our legal system or are we discriminating against some juveniles due to the nature / victim of their particular crime?
Not just the particular crime. It is often based as much on the level of media coverage the crime gets, and the desire of the prosecutors and government to be seen as "hard on crime". It is often playing the public relations game with the lives of others.Is there a benefit to society in deciding that some juveniles are "adults" for some purpose (law-breaking) but not adults for other purposes (voting / drinking)?
No. However, there is also no benefit for our society to not have a legal vehicle to allow the punishment to fit the crime. We need to reform the Juvenile Legal system, not do an end run around it for political expediency.I posted the following in another topic on a similar subject. I did not realized that this one had existed prior to posting in the other. Since the other is on a topic similar enough to this on that I think it might be closed, I am re-posting my comments here as this was the first of the two (and how I missed it is beyond me ).
I do agree with the Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty cannot be applied to juveniles, though I must confess that my view may be tainted, as I am opposed to the death penalty in general. However, I agree with the greater principle that I see at the heart of this issue. A principle the Justices were careful not to definitively address.
The issue of charging juveniles as adults has always been a tough one for me. Those opposed point out, as the justices did, that the age of 18 is the defining age of responsibility in our land. Those in support point to the horrors and tragedies of unimaginably brutal crimes committed by the hands of the young.
For me it becomes a question of approach. Should we charge Juveniles as adults? No. We do not grant them adult status in virtually any other areas of life. We do this because we do not feel they are responsible enough to make proper decisions. Yet, we would hold them accountable for some decisions, on the same level as an adult, simply because of their grotesque nature. To me, this is a hypocrisy of the highest order, and a cop out of sorts.
There is no question that there are children who commit horrendous crimes. And there is no question that, for the good of our society we need to punish criminals with punishments that fit the crime, even when the criminal is a child. But I wonder, why is it, we do not change the punishment limits that restrict juvenile courts instead of charge them as adults?
When a child commits a horrible crime, that child needs to be punished. This is not to seek rehabilitation (though we should strive for it whenever possible), but to establish order by example, and maintain a civilized society. Children learn by example. Sometimes the example is set by the adults in their life (for good or ill), sometimes the example is set by their peers (for good or ill), and sometimes the example is set by society (for good or ill).
However, Children are logical creatures. I see this logic at work behind the eyes of my daughter on a daily basis. When we abandon logic, in favor of emotion, or in favor of the "easy fix" they see it, they question it, and they sometimes question the source. When authority figures loose credibility in the eyes of our children, we risk dooming these children to a life of selfish greed, satisfied to the detriment of the rest of us.
Do take the easy way out. Do not decide to treat a child as an adult. Decide to treat children as children, but be willing to hold them accountable for their actions, with punishments that match the level of the crime committed. Do not selectively apply a different legal standard to juveniles when it makes you feel better, reform the juvenile legal system so that when the crime is heinous, so is the punishment. At least then, we can teach children the ways of individual responsiblity, though example, without the hypocrisy.