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Should Juveniles Accused of Serious Felonies Be Tried as Adults?

As his father's fiancée lay in bed, nine months pregnant, Jordan Brown picked up a .20-gauge shotgun and fired a fatal blast into the back of the woman's head, killing her and the fetus. Our criminal justice system is set up to punish those responsible for these horrific acts. Prosecutors have a duty to show the calculated mindset of the accused and to ask a jury to levy the punishment against those found guilty.

But in this case, Jordan Brown was just 11 years old when he pulled the shotgun's trigger. An adult that committed the same crime would surely be punished, and rightfully so. But is an 11-year-old boy capable of forming the same malicious intent as an adult? And is an 11-year-old capable of the same impulse control as an adult who might have briefly contemplated such a horrific act, but ultimately disregarded his or her baser impulses? If not, should the child be subjected to the same punishment as an adult?

The western Pennsylvania judge whose responsibility it was to answer that question has determined that Jordan Brown should be held to the same legal standard as an adult and face the same punishment as one. Now 12-years-old, Jordan Brown will face first-degree murder charges and could be sentenced to life without chance of parole.

But should Jordan be held to the same legal standard as an adult? Studies show that a child's brain matures slowly. This is obvious to anyone who has seen an 11- or 12-year-old behave in a way that would be embarrassing for any adult. Children simply have not developed the capability to behave like adults, and that is why our society treats children like children. Those opposed to this ruling have pointed out the litany of laws we have accepted as a society in this regard. For example, a person cannot drive, purchase alcohol or cigarettes, vote, marry, enter the military, or enter into a legally binding contract during their minority.

It is wise of our society to protect our young people from these situations in which they are not mature enough to prevent harm to themselves and others. Likewise, it is unwise to punish our young people when they do wrong in the same manner that we punish adults who have the capability to weigh their decisions that a child does not have. Jordan Brown, at 11 years of age, was not capable of making an adult decision, and he should not be punished as if he had.

This is not to say that he should go without punishment or that a woman's death should go without justice. In fact, our legal system has in place a juvenile system that adjudicates in situations where the accused is a juvenile. The punishments in the juvenile system have been specifically designed to rehabilitate the child to the greatest extent possible when that child has made a bad or even horrific choice. Jordan Brown deserves to be treated and adjudicated like the child that he is.

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