Here’s a case, currently in the news, in which a young girl helps murder her mother because her mother was trying to break up her relationship with her much older boyfriend.
In this case, the girl charged is 14 years old. A long series of text messages, along with forensic evidence, the timeline of events, and the girl’s own testimony indicate that she and her boyfriend did in fact commit the murder (though, of course, this must be proved in court).
Here’s what troubles me most besides the cruel and terrible murder itself: the girl is being charged as an adult. And she’s being charged as an adult, apparently, due to the seriousness of the crime, a practice that’s been allowed in many states for decades. The main argument in favor of this practice goes something like this: if the crime is serious, or ‘adult’ enough (whatever that means), the punishment should be proportionate. Adult crimes, in other words, merit adult punishment.
But wait a minute! In what way does the seriousness of the crime indicate that the girl is capable of the level of reasoning, impulse control, emotional maturity, and therefore moral accountability, of a fully functioning adult? It seems to me that in this case, the seriousness of the crime compared with the triviality of the reasons the girl gives for committing the murder indicates that she is not yet capable of an adult level of understanding.
As my regular readers may know, I hold a rather robust view of personal responsibility. But that’s not the same thing as believing that adolescents, lacking the fully developed brain structures of a person in their early 20’s, should be held to the same standard of accountability as an adult. To me, this is piling one injustice on top of another, if we believe that true justice necessarily includes not only the principle of proportionality of crime to punishment, but of punishment to culpability.
What do you think?