Teens orchestrate beating to post on youtube, this episode of teen violence made headlines not only for its viciousness, its planning but for the fact that these teens were charged as adults including felonies and other charges that could have gotten them up to life in prison. While many applauded the actions of this judge, including teens around the world, it raised eyebrows and questions both for the public and legal annalists. Top legal experts, like those featured on morning shows like the CBS early show, questioned the judges actions in regards to charging them as adults, claiming that situations like these are exactly why we have a juvenile justice system, to suspicious questions as to why this case- directly relating the severity of the charges to the sensationalism created by the media. These same legal experts stating that the charges should not be based on the number of times a TV network ran this video or the public outcry. However, this was just the latest form of “justice” seemingly induced by public outcry; from mandatory minimums in criminal sentencing to the three strikes law, yet it isn’t the first time teens have been charged as adults from the Menedez brothers accused of killing their parents, to the litany of gun crimes, to other issues in which it seems the public appears to have had enough.
But there really are problems with “had enough justice;” like mandatory minimums and the three strikes law the question we had to ask ourselves is who and what it serves to not only charge the teens in this case as adults but to charge them with crimes, if convicted, could land them LIFE in prison? We had to ask ourselves if the punishment really fits the crime; was it really the best way to curb the violence or was it about the media coverage? Not being a legal expert of any kind, simply an ordinary person I too wondered if this was about dealing with teen violence or about the number of times it was seen on television, right down to the charges filed; for example the kidnapping charge, the victim was lured to the location of the incident but was not snatched off the street, forced into a vehicle or forced into the residence at this location. Likewise the video is clearly something that happened in a matter of minutes our hours not days or weeks so why the kidnapping charge, simply something prosecutors were trying to get away with? Seeing the cumulative severity of the charges I too had to ask what’s going on; this was not a murder, a rape, even with the conflicting news reports about the health of the victim, there were no obvious signs of maiming or permanent injury. Later it was found she might have some vision loss in one eye. And while the teens in this case never got anything close to life in prison, terrorizing them with the possibility seems like just the latest low blow for our justice system.
Looking at the suspicions of the legal expert believing that these situations are why there is a juvenile justice system, it also questions whether this judge and the public appearing to be in, if nothing else, defacto support of her, really understood the dynamics of the criminal justice system. Did she understand, does the public to this day, understand what this could have done to these teens? For instance, even minus any real threat of life in prison, if convicted of the felony portions of the charges, they faced scrutiny in getting financial aid for school and faced continual difficulty in getting a job. There are those who would say that an outcome like that is a just consequence for such heinous behavior, but what they fail to realize is that the other consequence of a felony conviction can be turning these teens into recidivists turning a colossal mistake into the beginning of a life at odds with the law that could be far more dangerous to law enforcement, the public and more taxing on the justice system.
This is particularly important when we realize it was not the only option. Putting them in adult prison would have also been a huge gamble in that it could, most likely would have, endangered their lives, considering the youngest of the defendants was only 14; adult prison also gives the opportunity for all offenders, particularly young ones, to learn more dangerous criminal behaviors they are far more tempted to try if they potentially cannot afford to go to school and cannot find or retain employment. Where as, in contrast, charging them in the juvenile system does not mean just a slap on the wrist; they legally could have been held until their 18th or even 21st birthday and it still sends the powerful message people are, in all cases like this, clamoring for, telling them along with their peers nation wide it is a big deal with big repercussions. It simultaneously guaranteed not just that they did not have permanent records that effect employment, but that they were educated while incarcerated earning their high school diploma. The juvenile justice system also provides options that adult jail or prison does not; it offers the possibly required counseling and life coaching needed for them to make better choices upon release.
Even in the adult criminal justice system there were other options in charging these teens, charging them with things that could land them 90 days to a year in jail, even 5 years in jail rather than the possibility of life. This is paramount to keep in mind when thinking not only of the girls seen in the video doing the beating but the two boys charged for being lookouts during the attack; as one of the boys’ parents pointed out to a news camera covering the arrangement, he’s not even there, you don’t even see him on video. While it was pointed out that in their position as lookouts these boys might have had the good sense to, in the words of one news person, stop this thing, it has never been made public if the boys even knew what was going to take place beforehand, while it took place or how far it went once all parties were actually there. And yet these boys too were charged with things that could spell life behind bars.
For those who think that the juvenile system or lesser charges equaling less jail time adds up to an injustice to the victim whose life has been changed forever, either system would hopefully change these defendants who were described afterwards as laughing, joking and talking about going to cheerleading practice. Though that may sound eerie and chilling to some, it was described by the legal expert above as if these teens did not understand the severity of their actions. And is that not the definition of and the reasoning behind why we have a juvenile justice system, for young people who are not grown physically or mentally and do not have the capability to completely comprehend the consequences of their actions? Adult jail provides lesser risk than prison and still has the shock value to set these teens straight. With the concerns about things like youtube and media influencing kids, we must also look at its effect on everyone and now it seems court cases; the fact is “had enough justice” has claimed many unintended casualties.
Mandatory minimums, originally meant for violent repeat offenders, have put people in jail for excessive numbers of years for something as petty as shoplifting. The California three strikes law put a woman behind bars for life for two instances of writing bad checks and another separate incident of stealing a can of baby formula. But perhaps the most disturbing thing is we are now letting the legal system force “had enough justice” onto teens, not for murder, rape or attempting either; fact, actual murderers, rapists, child molesters and other far more violent adults, with should be better judgment, get far less time than these teens had the potential to face.
Further, as heinous, vicious, disturbing and unacceptable as it is, it wasn’t like these teens simply wanted to post a violent video on youtube and went looking for any random victim; the teens claim the victim insulted them on myspace. While that is by no means justification for the behavior, it means it wasn’t just some random, unexplained act of senseless violence; these teens believed they were provoked. It may well have been a case of she insulted us lets embarrass her in the same way using the same media, only a different facet; they may have only sought to embarrass her more than they perceived she had embarrassed them. That intent would also fall in line with the demeanor of the girls afterwards laughing and talking about going to cheerleading practice, if their intent was embarrassment and they, being teens, did not think their actions all the way through. It may also remain a possibility that these girls did not realize the extent of the injuries they were inflicting; from the clips repeatedly shown on the news, you saw the girl being rapidly hit in the head by another but there is nothing to indicate just how hard, or not, she is being hit.
The case reached the headlines again when one of the offenders was sentenced to several years probation and required to submit a DNA sample; the mother of the victim was shocked to see the girl smiling in the courtroom, almost skipping across the length of the court to give the needed sample. Being that it was the mother of the victim, anyone can understand the outrage and bewilderment of this parent whose child has gone though such a harrowing ordeal, wondering if the message has sunk in. However the actions of this offender proved every point of every legal analyst crying foul, the legal analysts on TV saying this is why we have a juvenile justice system; this was obviously a person who was still very much a young girl, not a future hardened criminal. And the message that sunk in that day for the young person was relief upon finding out they did not have to spend any time behind bars, finding out they would not have felonies on their record, that they would go back to school, life would go back to something close to normal and this mistake would not haunt them for the rest of their life. And the proof is in the pudding, as they say, none of these offenders have made headlines since.
Another fact in this case is the victim has gone on with her life and long after this issue has passed, she seems to be well adjusted healthy and happy. Once these teen perpetrators paid their debt to society, they too needed the opportunity to do the same. No matter the frequency of occurrences like this or the 80,000 other videos of this type on youtube, what nearly happened in this case is overkill; no one should face the possibility of life in prison even for the horrific thing done to this other young girl. And the bigger issue, if we don’t stop “had enough justice,” not only will we have more injustices attached to mandatory minimums and three strikes laws, but ruin more and more young lives for huge, tragic mistakes that deserve punishment, but not life destroying punishments. Plus if we had allowed this to happen to these teens in this case where there where almost no permanent injuries, no sexual assault and no one lost their life, how long would it be before we put children in jail for playground scuffles, how long will it be before we’re handing out possible life sentences for petty theft, first offence of writing bad checks, before we really are handing out life sentences for stealing a loaf of bread?