Social Media Shames Juvenile Offenders: New York Looks To Reform, Canada On Its Way

We all make stupid decisions sometimes—especially during those moody teenage years. But, when your stupid decision is a criminal offense, how harsh should your punishment be?

In 2005, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a person with capital punishment if they committed the crime under the age of 18.[1] And last year, the Supreme Court also decided juveniles could not be sentenced to life without parole for any crime less severe than murder.

For most states, juveniles are classified as 17 years old or younger. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have all set the age of criminal responsibility at 18.

However, for 11 states, the age of criminal responsibility is 17, which means 17- and 18-year-old teenagers can be tried in adult courts if accused of a crime.

New York and North Carolina are the only states in the nation that try all 16-year-olds as adults.[2]

Through its previous rulings, the Supreme Court decided adolescents are not in complete control of their actions, thus less culpable for their crimes, leading to lesser legal consequences for them.

In New York State, where 45,873 youths between 16 and 17 years old were arrested last year, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman would agree with Supreme Court opinion.[3]

Historically, via the pillory or stocks, criminal sentences were aimed to pain and shame the offender. Today, the question remains, how effective is this method at reducing the youth recidivism rate?

Lippman supports a less punitive, and more rehabilitative, approach to 16- and 17-year-old criminal defendants, reports the New York Times.

His proposal for leniency is supported by studies that show adolescents who are tried as adults are more likely to commit other crimes in the future than those tried as juveniles, the New York Times reports.

Even if a lesser punishment for juveniles is helpful for rehabilitation, there is still the issue of public humiliation.

In Canada, a statue called the Youth Criminal Justice Act prohibits anyone—journalist, organization, or individual—from identifying and naming someone underage who is charged with a crime.

“It’s an attempt to allow people, who, in the innocence of age, do really stupid things, to have a life after they make amends,” writes Kevin Harding of Politics Respun.

In America, we name names.

But even Canada makes bad decisions on occassion. 

“I was really troubled today to see James Moore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, post a story that named a 17-year old suspect. The story explicitly says that the accused is a member of an under-18 water polo team,” continues Harding. “[Below is] a screen grab of the Minister’s facebook page. I’ve blurred the kid’s name because it could be against the law to publish it.”

With social media, online journalism, and Internet forums abound, confidentiality for court cases is seemingly impossible. So, even if juvenile legal punishments are dampened, how are youth offenders supposed to reintegrate with society when their ill repute remains public, even permanent?

Adopting Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act will not transfer Canada’s peacekeeping reputation to its North American neighbor. But, amid a clear desire for juvenile justice system reform, maybe it’s a start.

-WB

[1] Roper v. Simmons.

[2] Secret, Mosi. “New York Judge Seeks New System for Juveniles.” NewYork TimesSeptember 20, 2011.

[3] According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services via the New York Times.

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