Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Should Texas raise the age at which youth are criminally liable as adults?

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 25 will hold a public hearing on an important and potentially contentious topic from their list of interim charges: "Study the classification of 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system of Texas."

The issue arises frequently because the feds don't categorize youth as adults until they're 18, which has caused disjunctures, for example, regarding capital sentencing and various other topics.

Also, advancements in brain science call into question whether 17 or even 18 year olds have fully developed cognitive functions that make them as accountable as, say, someone in their 20s - as a practical matter, if not a legal one.

Should make for an interesting discussion. Let me know in the comments what you think about the possibility of raising the age - probably to 18, like the feds - at which youth may be held criminally liable as adults versus processing their cases in the juvenile justice system.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is Texas - if the Feds use 18 it must be wrong!

Anonymous said...

21 yrs. old.

Anonymous said...

Raise it all to 21--voting, etc

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a more important task would be to revisit the age and conditions of waiver to adult court. The moral panic caused by the "Super Predator" phenomenom, (whose author later admitted was wrong) and the resultant rise in waivers to adult court is troubling to even the most conservative of Texans

Steve said...

This brings up many mixed emotions and issues. How will this impact the juvenile justice system? Will we have 18 year old "juveniles" housed with 14 year old offenders? There can be vast differences in maturity between those ages. At the same time, we get some 17 year old offenders on adult probation from time to time, and these are people who are doing some very adult crimes. I'm not comfortable with either side of this. Maybe we should have a special category for youthful offenders between 15 and 19 years of age.

ckikerintulia said...

Little anecdote here: my grandson at seventeen years old was caught at a party bust in possession. He was charged as an adult for being a juvenile in possession. Go figure!
I think he got deferred adj. No serious consequences.

"Red" Merriweather Coast said...

As a matter of practicality, having it the same age as the federal limit would be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

False panic about "Super Predators." This is what they tried to peddle:

"America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile 'super-predators' -- radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more pre-teenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs and create serious communal disorders."

Anonymous said...

As an adult probation officer with several 17 year old defendants on the caseload, it is hard to get them to take things seriously. They are still in a high school mentality and don't understand that their juvenile actions have serious adult consequences.

Anonymous said...

Devil's advocate says. If you become a killer at any age, you deserve to be separated from society - for ever. This is why we have prisons vs putting them in a special room down at the school yard.

Regarding all other crimes. We have enough money and units available to house non-violent criminals of any age. But in order to do that correctly, we must consider a full blown segregation & remove age limits regarding any & all violent crimes. Saving a limit for non-violent crimes would be the natural avenue.

The only thing preventing this are bleeding hearts and the politicians in the pockets of a few wealthy people.

Grandmom said...

some 17 year-olds have no clue. Their brains are those of infants. They should not be driving, let alone possessing guns. They should be under constant supervision until they are 21.

Anonymous said...

Now that an Adult Probation Officer has chimed in, I must include that kids of all ages know that they have an out regarding crimes that they are liable for. It's eventually called - Probation.

When they go from picking their nose in time-out, to being grounded, to having items taken away for doing wrong - probation is considered a damn joke, if it is devoid of no less than 30 days in an isolation cell. It takes that long or longer to realize you are a criminal and are being held accountable. And mommy & daddy can't save you.

Dorms and cell blocks where you are allowed to make friends are breeding grounds for gangs and one stop shops for rapist and strong-arming and everyone knows it.

The one foot in & one foot out scare tactic is nothing more than a fee collection service that pits officers against criminals. We need to force everyone placed on probation to be held accountable for their crimes including a mandatory stay in jail, repairing and replacing damaged or stolen property. To be fined by a court that doesn't include taking full responsibility allows for 17 year olds to not take anything seriously. They laugh at you when you drop in and leave. They really do. Don't believe it, leave a recorder in the couch cushion and retrieve it 30 minutes later.

I'd take these 17 year olds to the nearest unit once a month (on a no speaking allowed bus tour) and let them go thru the strip search motions, eat what they call lunch in a chow-hall facing convicted ex-probationers, wearing prison attire. I'll bet you any amount they'll think twice about breaking any laws and they'll teach other youths to avoid being bad.

If you don't have time, I'll take them.

Anonymous said...

Hard to forgive a 14 year old for an Aggravated Sexual Assault and not consider him an adult. Worse when it is a murder. Still 18 seems reasonable without a court's certification.

MICHAEL LOWE said...

Yes, IMHO Texas should raise the age at which youth are held criminally liable as adults - BUT I think it should vary per offense.

For example, if it's simple possession of marijuana or DWI, it should be 18. There are probably more offenses that the age should be raised. There's no reason to give 17 yo kid a permanent record over a marihuana case.

I don't think the legislature would raise it unless they had a two tier system. One tier for serious violent crimes and other sex offenses and another for drug related and petty theft type crimes.

Just my opinion.

Michael Lowe, Board Certified Criminal Defense Lawyer practicing in Dallas, Texas (www.DallasJustice.com)

SEMPERFINE said...

While not as common as it once was, a 17yoa can enlist in the military and be trained to become a professional killer in the pay of the United States. The Supreme Court failed to recognize this when they eliminated 17yoa's from eligibilty for the Death Penalty. Leave it at 17.

Anonymous said...

What you must consider is there is a potential for a near 18 year old to be detained in a facility with a 10 year old. Is this what we want? The legislature must consider the financial impact on adding the 17-18 year old's to a juvenile case load.

Anonymous said...

Michael Lowe I think you are on to something.

Anonymous said...

We have done that and it was called Scared Straight. Not only did it not act as a deterrent, those who participated in the program were much more likely to continue their criminal behavior than the control group.
"Beware simple solutions to complex problems"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Steve and 8:17, nothing stops detention facilities from segregating 10 year olds from 18 year olds, just as they segregate men from women. Those seem like separate issues, or am I missing something?

@Semperfine, the "not as common as it once was" caveat speaks to evolving societal standards, no?

I agree Michael Lowe may be onto something in terms of what the Lege might embrace, but of course courts can already certify juveniles as adults for serious violent crimes and sex offenses. That wouldn't change if the age of maturity were adjusted to match the feds.

Boog said...

Currently volunteering in restorative juvenile justice in east Africa. I'm struck how my conservative world view shielded me from our American obsession with punishment. 1 - a youth is a youth. In virtually every other country except the US and Somalia, being in contact with the law is seen as a vulnerability that, while linked to poor decision making, cries out for rehab and restoration, not separation. 2 - the "age of culpability" will continue to slide ever outward from 18 because of our societie's desire to throw off moral obligations.

No neat package here, but in short - the lack of responsibility coupled with the ability and propensity to commit serious crimes at an early age will increase as long as we live obsessed with punishment as opposed to life change centered around truth and restoration. Protect youth as much as we can.

Anonymous said...

Grits, not every facility in the state is large enough to segregate 17 and 10 year olds and all would be together in the classroom for education in most of the facilities except the large urban ones.

Anonymous said...

Grits, 10:54 AM is correct. Look at the capacities of all the medium and small detention centers and some of the larger ones. There simply is not enough bed space available to create seperate units for age groups. Look at average daily population then factor in what we believe would be the increase in referrals by adding just 17 year old juveniles to the mix. Maybe increasing the minimum age from 10 to 12 or 13 would help ???

Anonymous said...

10:54 and 2:28,

You're kidding, right? Why would one even consider putting a 10 year old with a 17 year old for any extended incarceration? I do not even understand why it is a point of discussion? Is Texas so screwed up that they actually now do that?

Anonymous said...

Don't get all uptight. Juvenile departments for the most part are single cell occupancy so a 10 year old is not alone in a cell with a 17 year old. They may be in the same housing unit and in the same building together but not in the same room. They may very well program together in the smaller detention centers.

Anonymous said...

When I was in the Marine Corps, we used to sing a little song while running that goes...Here we go again, same old s#!t again". That should be the theme song for TJJD. Since 2006, what has really changed? Nothing, except the person running the agency. The people who created and kept the corrupt, broken system going are, for the most part, still there. This trickles down and impacts on the staff and then on the kids. Referral to the adult system should be on a case by case basis, subject to a thorough assessment of the threat they pose. Even a lower functioning, youthful, chronic violent/serious offender may well need to be segregated from society in the interest of public safety. 1050 youth spread over five facilities, and safe, appropriate housing based on age and offense cannot be achieved? Really?