Prosecution in youth cases too lenient

In Seattle only a year ago, a friendly street performer was beat to death by three unassociated and underage teens who, upon trial, were sentenced to only 72 weeks in juvenile detention because their ages kept them from being tried as adults. The brutal act appalled many Seattleites who were familiar with the “Tuba Man” Ed McMichael, but were more shocked by the leniency of the judge.

For many, this is an all too familiar situation: underage individuals committing crimes that would lock them up if they were a couple of years older, or even a few months. Yet, should there be a legalized limit of at what age a person can understand their actions? Surely American citizens do not simply gain a conscience on their eighteenth birthday.

Cultural stepping stones should not be used to determine whether an individual can be treated as an adult. Instead, it should be psychologically evaluated to determine a generalized, but flexible age that a citizen should be held accountable for the severity of their actions.

The age of adulthood in the United States is eighteen. However, the global standards of what constitutes adulthood are largely different. It is not just to assume that independent of age, teenagers lack the capacity to act and think as adults.

In developing countries with a lack of child labor laws and early marriage for females, the age of adulthood is understandably much earlier than ours, generally ranging from 12-14. However, in developed states, the minimum age of adulthood is 15-16.

Various factors legally determine “adulthood:” the right to marry, to vote, to enter military service, to drive, and to purchase and consume alcohol. In the United States, 16-year-old citizens may maneuver 4000lbs of steel around on busy streets and highways, yet they are not mature enough to rent a car until 25. Not to mention our ludicrous drinking age.

None of these factors justify being an adult, or being tried as an adult. That is a psychological issue that should be considered as such, instead of the legal ability to purchase alcohol.

By their teens, humans understand doubt, shame and guilt, all sensations felt after committing an atrocious crime. Unless the individual is psychologically unwell, as is often considered in adult cases, they inevitably experience these emotions.

Psychologist Erik Erikson developed typologies for stages of psychosocial development, stating that in the first year and a half of a child’s life it learns to trust or mistrust. Between one and three years old, a child experiences shame and doubt, and from roughly three to six years of age, a child learns guilt.

Erikson’s work claims that 6-year-olds understand that their actions have consequences, which is hard to deny when children are seen to be evading punishment after doing something wrong or openly expressing guilt after causing trouble.

If a child learns shame, doubt and guilt by the time he or she is six, then the ability to foresee consequences should be present by the teenage years.

A year after murdering Ed McMichael, one of the teens turned 18 and committed a robbery, for which he was treated and punished as an adult. A mild crime received full penalty in the adult world, while the teen’s earlier case of manslaughter simply got him a little over a year in juvenile detention. Supposedly, the teen was not mature enough at 17 years old to be guilty of murder, but a year later was fully convicted of robbery.

Even more than merely serving justice we must consider those who are targeted by the misled actions of teenagers. Ed McMichael’s murder is no less significant because the murderer was not an adult. It is almost more ludicrous that he could die at the hands of someone so young.

The prosecution of youth needs to be reevaluated, analyzing the psychological maturity of a suspect and holding them accountable for their illegal and violent actions.