Lionel Tate, then a Florida teen was only 14 years old when he was tried as an adult in the murder of Tiffany Eunick — a crime that happened when Tate was 12. Though his sentence was overturned in 2004, he was the youngest person in the US to be given a life sentence.
Tate is back in the news this week, accepting a plea deal in a new charge against him, one of robbing a pizza delivery man while he was out on parole in 2005. He had been released from prison on probation. This additional crime and plea deal has him again behind bars until 2031.
This sad story encapsulates the debate of whether children should be charged as adults. Was Tate, at 12, able to fully comprehend the extent of his actions? The fact that he's been charged again with another crime, after having been released from the first, could speak to the notion that criminals are not capable of rehabilitation. That is to say, if Tate had been kept behind bars from his original sentence, perhaps the robbery wouldn't have occurred. Though was his time behind bars, the genesis of his criminal behavior? Did society create a criminal by treating a childhood accident as an adult crime?
The arguments are complex. Those in favor cite beliefs that harsh-sentencing acts as a deterrent for crimes, and that children are more advanced at younger ages now, capable of understanding the implications of their actions.
Arguments against include belief in the rehabilitative properties of the juvenile detention system, and the thought that children don't have the intellectual or moral capacity to determine right from wrong.
What do you think? Should minor criminals face major penalties?