The State of Texas has maintained that individuals who commit a crime at the age of 17 or above can be tried as adults. However, this policy is drawing criticism from activists on both sides of the isle. Some people say that the minimum age for criminal sentencing should be increased because many people make mistakes in their youth. In contrast, opponents cite the increased cost of juvenile detention centers and fairness as reasons why the age requirement for adult sentencing should be decreased. Below are both sides of the debate about whether teens should be tried as adults in the court of law.
Situation in Texas
The State of Texas has often been considered as a key driver of criminal legislation in the United States. Texas has historically imposed harsher penalties for criminal offenses. However, Texas is one of only a few states that automatically tries all individuals as adults if they are at least 17 years of age. Many states try individuals as adults they are at least 18 years old. Therefore, it is significant to consider the lower age threshold used in the State of Texas.
The Texas rule that made anyone over 17 years of age automatically liable for adult criminal penalties was originally passed in 1918. As a result, this has long been a core component of criminal legislation in Texas. The 17-year threshold is also important because Texas levies high criminal penalties for murder and manslaughter. Even in today’s world, Texas continues to apply the death penalty more than any other state.
The 17-year threshold has become an important topic of debate in Texas because of recent Supreme Court rulings. In the year 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down legislation by Texas Governor Rick Perry that would have automatically subjected all individuals found guilty of murder to life in prison. Many people in the legal community have questioned the wisdom of life sentences for young offenders who have become rehabilitated. This issue has initiated a fierce debate throughout the United States that is likely to continue for many years.
Legislation in Other States
States vary significantly in the way that they classify criminal offenses. The Constitution of the United States offers significant flexibility for individual states to determine their own policies regarding criminal offenses. New York and North Carolina automatically try offenders as adults if they are at least 16 years old. In contrast, many states do not apply adult criminal penalties unless an individual is at least 18 years old. The underlying drivers of criminal penalty variation are determined by the political leanings of individuals in each state. Since these factors can vary significantly, criminal legislation can be very different from one state to the next.
Supporters of Lower Age Classification
Supporters of younger age thresholds site several legitimate factors. Studies have shown that the total cost of housing a juvenile offender is more than seven times the cost of an ordinary adult prisoner. Therefore, supporters believe that the costs associated with the penal system could be significantly reduced by cutting the number of juvenile offenders. Supporters also cite that younger offenders should not be given a break for committing the same crime.
Supporters of Higher Age Classification
Many people also support higher age classifications for trying individuals as adult criminal offenders. These people often cite how the limited education of younger offenders can drive some people to commit offenses that they later regret. Supporters of higher age thresholds also believe that rehabilitation programs are more effective than traditional incarceration. Studies have shown that juvenile detention programs can significantly decrease the likelihood of an individual committing a crime in the future. In contrast, the adult penal system can actually increase the chances of an individual committing another offense.
Continuing the Debate
The debate about the minimum age thresholds for adult criminal sentencing will be fierce in the years ahead. Many people have strong opinions about how young people should be tried in the criminal justice system. While legislation will be slow, it is likely that many states will begin to increase the minimum age classification for charging young offenders as adults. However, the fundamentals of the Constitution will continue to drive variation between states and intensify the debate throughout the country.