Society has struggled with how to deal with the most deviant criminals for centuries. The question of justice becomes more complex than ever when juvenile offenders are involved. Sadly, it’s a dilemma that is more and more frequently upon us:
- 17-year-old Jonathan Rojas is accused of engaging in a shooting spree that killed one person and wounded another in Greenfield, California;
- A 14-year-old and a 16-year-old are accused of firing into a stopped vehicle, killing the driver and wounding a passenger, in what is believed to be a gang shooting in Los Angeles, California;
- A juvenile has been charged with murder following reports of a family disturbance in Culver City, California;
- A 14-year-old has been arrested in connection with a murder in Boyle Heights, California, and is suspected to have participated in no fewer than six additional homicides.
- A 15-year-old has been arrested in connection with the murder of a Japantown security guard in San Francisco, California;
- Four teens were arrested and charged with murder after the fatal gang-related shooting of a 16-year-old in Escondido, California.
Clearly, teens are connected to serious crimes more and more of late, with some facing penalties in the juvenile system, and others being tried as adults.
Why Teens Commit Serious Crimes
Unquestionably, the depravity of these cases and others like it is stunning. It leads us, as a society, to ask how we should address children who engage in such activity. Perhaps we start by trying to come to some understanding of who teen killers are and the multifaceted environments that often produce them.
In a recent study, researchers concluded that oftentimes, young offenders grow up in homes in what they call disordered neighborhoods. These children generally have easy access to firearms and frequently have extensive exposure to violence during their formative years. Consequently, their compromised home lives drive young people to behave in foolish, passionate ways, reacting to the situations they find themselves in. They fail to process their actions in relation to potential consequences. Rather than the myth of the “super predator teen,” researchers believe reckless morality-stripped teens are born of treacherous family and neighborhood norms.
That, combined with myriad research surmising that the human brain does not fully develop until roughly age 25, leads to some of the horrendous criminal outcomes we see involving juveniles and is precisely the reason the Supreme Court cited as it eliminated the death penalty for juveniles in 2005, and why a sentence of life without parole is only rarely handed down to juvenile offenders still today.
The Teen Brain and Criminal Penalties
Further studies confirm what is quite obvious to the casual observer: teens crave peer approval and pursue reckless actions in their quest for that approval. Combine this with the inability to balance risk and reward, along with a shaky personal history, and you wind up with juveniles in the criminal justice system. These facts make it imperative that the expectations for teen criminals are tempered when facing courtrooms and justice systems designed with adults in mind. That is not to minimize the anguish of victims; it simply recognizes the reality of the science behind teen behavior.
Defending Teen Suspects
The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Boertje & Associates are prepared to launch a vigorous defense for juveniles who face penalties in the adult criminal justice system. For a confidential consultation, schedule an appointment in our San Diego office today.