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Should Teens Be Charged as Adults?

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Attorney Robin Sax: We don't let children vote and we don't let children sign contracts, but once they're old enough to drive, they should be able to stand trial for murder ...?

George Leroy Baker III
Prosecuting children as adults is a touchy subject, especially from the perspective of one who advocates on behalf of children. A brutal, callous case that occurred last Sunday, September 5, 2010, got me thinking about this very topic. On that evening, 81-year-old George Baker was indiscriminately attacked while walking down the main street of sleepy Lynchburg, Virginia, after attending his granddaughter's wedding. The Tempe, Arizona, resident was on his way back to his hotel from the reception when two 16-year-old boys and one 13-year-old boy randomly attacked him.

A police search-warrant affidavit connected with the arrest of the three juveniles describes how, immediately before the attack, one boy had told their female companions that he was going to hit the next person he saw, thinking this would impress the girls. That boy then struck the elderly gentleman, who fell to the ground. The second boy then kicked the unconscious Mr. Baker in the head. Mr. Baker, who had extensive head injuries, died at the hospital early the next morning.

The three teenage boys were arrested after being identified by witnesses to the attack. All have been charged with murder. The two 16-year-olds will be charged as adults, in accordance with Virginia law.

But is that correct? And who decides? Treating a child like an adult can be a decision made either by the court or by the prosecutor. The leading Supreme Court decision of Kent v. United States actually delineates the factors that should be considered in making this determination -- namely, the seriousness of the crime, the suspect's age and the suspect's criminal past. Most people do not understand that serious reflection goes into the decision to try a child as an adult. In fact, by an eerie coincidence, Virginia's current policies governing how and when to prosecute juveniles as adults was being reviewed by the Virginia State Crime Commission during the very week of Mr. Baker's attack.

The discussion surrounded proposed legislation that would allow a juvenile's lawyer to appeal the transfer of violent-crime charges to a non-juvenile court. Proponents of charging juveniles as adults cite the actual reduction of juvenile crime in Virginia since a 1996 law change, which requires the automatic transfers of murder and similar aggravated-malice charges to adult courts for juveniles over 14. Who knows whether this week's events will have a bearing on the final decision about what the state does with violent juveniles? At least the topic is being intelligently and systemically debated.

These decisions don't come easy -- and they shouldn't. Children are our future, and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The only way to decide if it is an appropriate choice is to weigh the facts. In this case, the factors as we know them are:

  • At least one of the three defendants had a premeditated plan.
  • Two of the three are 16 -- of age to drive (and even to consent to sex) in most states.
  • The victim was a particularly vulnerable 81-year-old man who was by himself -- and, by all witness accounts, doing nothing to provoke the attack.
  • The crime showed a great degree of callousness: The boys allegedly continued to kick and beat Mr. Baker when he was on the ground and not resisting.
  • This is not the boys' first interaction with law enforcement.
  • The boys have been associated with a local gang.

Given all of that, is it bad that the children in this case (not every case) are being treated like adults? I say no -- and kudos to prosecutors in Virginia for holding the perpetrators accountable for this heinous, despicable crime.

next: Stella McCartney Launches Kids' Line
37 comments so far | Post a comment now
erika September 14, 2010, 2:44 PM

No. If a kid cannot legally have sex, they should not be tried as an adult. The law says that kids under a certain age cannot make the decision to have sex. Supposedly they don’t have the capacity to give permission to have sex.That being the case, how can they have the capacity to engage in a criminal act?

Matt September 14, 2010, 4:26 PM


Wait are you seriously bringing sex into it? Your reasoning is that is a kid isn’t old enough to have sex, and they murder someone, they should still be tried as a juvenile? Why are living? Honestly it’s people like you that make me lose faith in humanity.

Gail Cooke September 14, 2010, 6:25 PM

Adult crime, Adult time. No excuses. When they plan/carry out a crime by themselves..throw them in jail for as long as you can. I have no sympathy for these monsters. Especially when they’ve been involved with the police before.

Monica September 14, 2010, 6:55 PM

I agree, if they have committed violent crimes before they should be tried as adults. These kids were not only old enough to know what they were doing but, old enough to know the consequences. By the time you reach high school age you are old enough to know that bad actions have bad consequences. You know what committing a murder is and what it means and that it can get you into prison. I’ve always thought that if you do adult things, you pay adult consequences. I feel the same way about sex and teen pregnancy. Kids these days know too much and do too much. You’d be surprised how some kids these days carry their lives on like adults when the parents don’t care enough. If we don’t stop teenagers like these who just randomly kill someone for no reason at all but to impress a girl, they will never learn. They will go out and commit more violent crimes and the next time it might be you or me. I’m not saying that all children should be treated equal but if they’ve been in the system before its worth serious consideration to try them as adults.

Leah September 15, 2010, 5:38 AM

Agree 100% w/Gail - Adult Crime, Adult Time. And I’m sorry, by about 10 years old I KNEW you didn’t beat people, steal, KILL, etc. Those young men are bad seeds and the sooner they are locked away the better!!

anonymous September 15, 2010, 7:11 AM


Anonymous September 15, 2010, 8:43 AM

i’m sorry, but they took someones life, and they are old enough to know better, this isn’t a 4 year old getting daddy’s loaded gun from the night drawer and shooting their 2 year old sister on accident. this was on purpose and something they knew was wrong. they should be held accountable. how would you feel if this man was your father or grandfather or uncle or brother…….

MomO5 September 15, 2010, 9:21 AM

Really Erika? wht on earth does sex have to do with this case? These were not 5 or 6 year olds who may not have a true understand of Consequences and repercussions. They were 16 and 13 who unless mentally handicap know right from worng and what would happen if they beat an elderly person. Adult Crime/Adult Time!

KS September 15, 2010, 10:19 AM

I don’t think minors should be charged as adults in all instances but this is one of those cases where all of them should even the 13 year old should face the adult charge. They carried out an act of premeditated cold blooded murder for the simple pleasure of killing another person.

We can think of them as innocents no longer. We have an obligation to protect society from the depravity of others and we now know these three individuals have the capacity to inflict heinous crimes on innocent people with no provocation.

That is the very reason we have a criminal justice system and these are the very types of crimes we should charge minors as adults. In all honesty these three should get the death penalty. If you have the capacity to kill in that manner there is no fixing it or changing it.

My heart goes out to that family. Wat should have been a day of celebration and new beginnings turned into horror and shock. How tragic and horrible for them.

Anonymous September 15, 2010, 10:21 AM

Sex and murder are very different. The whole issue of discouraging underage sex is for the protection of the person who might want to do it, that protection being primarily concerned with STDs and pregnancy. And while turning eighteen doesn’t magically make that person a more responsible human being, there does a come a point where that person has to be given responsibility for his/her own safety.

Murder, on the other hand, has very little to do with protecting the person who might want to do it and everything to do with protecting the rest of us from that person. Someone who can decide to murder the way these boys did - without provocation, without drink or drugs, without anything besides their own decision making faculties - is an exceedingly dangerous person to have around. I would not want to live next to someone who could kill so randomly (or at all, in fact), and I doubt those who are arguing against prosecuting these children as adults would volunteer to be their neighbours instead.

MS Mom  September 15, 2010, 1:00 PM

Adult Crime, Adult Time. My husband was shot and nearly killed by a 14 year old while he was working as a police officer. After servng only a few years, The “boy” was released only to turn around and commit armed robbery. These “children” know and understand a whole lot more regarding their actions and the concequences, than adults would like to believe.

Lissalou September 15, 2010, 1:39 PM

I got pregnant at 14. I made an adult decision to have sex and was then epected to make an adult decision on how to deal with the pregnancy ( I kept the baby and now I oculdn’t ask for a better kid). So when teens have sex, they have to deal with the consequences no matter what they are. Std’s or pregnany. They have to deal with these in an adult manner, even if they are under the age of consent. So if all us teen parents in the world are expected to make these decisions of abortion, adoption, raise the baby, go to the dr., get tested, treat a possible std, etc. Then why can’t teens be held accountable fot the very adult decision to hurt another human being? These aren’t small children who haven’t learned right from wrong. They are murderers and should be treated as such.
If they had knocked up a girl, the same people that say, “they are kids they can’t be tried as an adult for murder,” would be saying, well he better get a job and support the baby.
I suppose murder just isn’t that big of a deal anymore. Go liberals! Hope that 16 year old gang member that may live up the street from you never makes the decision to kill you or someone you know.

Anonymous September 17, 2010, 2:28 PM

Yes teens should be charged as adults.

Kelly September 20, 2010, 10:44 AM

I completely agree with these boys being tried as adults. I do not agree with one size fits all, and think it should be looked at on a case by case basis. But, I also think that we should be holding parents accountable for the actions of their children. I know that’s a sticky subject, I am the mother of 4, and totally agree with being held accountable for their actions when they are not with me. Maybe if we start holding PARENTS responsible to be parents that raise their children, we wouldn’t have teenagers killing innocent people for no reason. Put those parents in prison as well.

kare September 21, 2010, 8:12 AM

YOU DO THE CRIME, you do the TIME, . he made the decision so he has to accept the verdict. Try him as an adult.

Emily October 13, 2010, 8:06 AM

i agree with erika, he is a kid they make mistakes. you put him in jail and for the rest of his life he is going to be a criminal.

lil wayne October 27, 2010, 11:35 AM

i think that they should be charged as an adult because they still did a crime and like they say yew do the crime yew do the time and its like saying a 12 year old can kill anyone and be chared as a child whats the point of letting them get away with it when they can do it again they arent going to learn if they dont get a puinshment!

diazepam December 1, 2010, 3:29 PM

I dont completely understand your view, but I get the point.

klasik krep tarifi December 14, 2010, 12:36 AM

krep tarifi, tatli krep tarifi, sade krep tarifi, krep hamuru

Perennial Flowers For Full Sun December 18, 2010, 1:31 AM

Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter.

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