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Lionel Tate, Trying Kids as Adults

Hot Button: Trying Kids as Adults

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?


Join The Conversation
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
LMAO Caterpillar finally!!!
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
I agree with Nyara (shocking i know) on this one, a 12 year old knows good and evil, and is quite capable of commiting murder and should get the same punishment as an adult.
gigill gigill 9 years
I have mixed feelings about sentencing kids as adults. In Canada, I know the Young Persons Justice Act ISN'T working in the city I used to live in (which is the car theft capital of the country). These kids would steal cars over and over and over again while getting a mere slap on the wrist it seemed like with all these rehab programs that just aren't working. As a result, these kids, who know full-well what they are doing is wrong, have taken a few lives by stealing cars and running down people/cyclists on the steets ON PURPOSE. Something has got to change. That being said, I do believe in second chances and I think rehab can help some kids, but not all. It's definitely an area of justice that I see as having many shades of grey.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
Guys I think a 12 year old is very very very capable of committing cold blooded murder and getting away with it and knowing full well what he is doing, kids today aren't the kids who are innocent and uncorrupted.
flutterpie flutterpie 9 years
kids lack the mental capacity to appreciate their actions but at the same time you look at criminals who have turned into murderers (before the laws changed) and all of them say they started when they were young. had the laws been different at the time, their could be dozens of people still alive. mandatory sentencing does not allow for mitigating factors and cases need to be decided by judges not by some guy who signs a law because it makes him look good in the next election.
annebreal annebreal 9 years
It's a tough call. I think it's good that there's the option to try minors as adults, but I think it should only be used in extreme cases and on an individual basis. But I think the frontal lobe being developed enough is an issue, as is the general short-term thinking of an adolescent. Can a 12 year old comprehend a 30 year sentence? Probably not. And more importantly, I think that because they're still developing and maturing, and aren't quite set in their ways yet, there's such an opportunity to turn things around. And it seems like such a shame to just throw that potential of a young life away, especially because I think it's really likely they'll just learn to become better, hardened criminals in lockup. I think at the core of it for me it's the same argument as the death penalty - should you throw away another life, when one has already been destroyed? Tough tough call.
some children are born with criminal like brains for whatever reason. these children are abnormal and in my personal opinion, there should be the ability for the courts to try these people as adults. should every kid be tried as an adult that commits a crime? no, but what about the kid that tries to kill someone, and actually means and and can vocalize their intentions? what about the kids that rape people and then admit they would do it if they knew they could get away with it? i think that just as with adults, some kids cannot be reformed. there are things going on in their brains sometimes that cannot be fixed, just as with adults. so i believe if a child can pass a test and legally be deemded fit to stand an adult trial, and they have committed some horrendous crime as rape, murder, etc, etc. then they should face adult penalties for the safety of the community.
honeycreepshow honeycreepshow 9 years
Why would you even try a child as an adult? I don't understand it. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of having an age limit?
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
I agree, nyaradzom! I think that his committing another crime is very indicitive of a mental instability or illness, and he should therefore recieve treatment instead of jailtime.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 9 years
I saw this story on A&E about 3 weeks ago on American justice,. I can't believe he committed another crime afte getting a second chance
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
Sorry about posting twice!
JovianSkies JovianSkies 9 years
When I was 12, I was very aware of my actions, and can't imagine that this boy didn't know what he was doing. That being said, he must be mentally ill in some way, and should have been sent to have intensive therapy rather than be in jail. This leads me to think, though, where do we draw the line? A young boy took the life of a girl, and justice has to be served, but how? His being in jail for life is the same as being sent to death, so how is it, in reality, any different than the death sentence? I'm not well versed in the law, but isn't there a sort of juvinile program (I think it's similar to a home) where criminal minors are kept until old enough to be tried as an adult? Or is it that their trial is postponed until then? Obviously, I don't have concrete information, but is there someone who can enlighten me on this, if they can?
megnmac megnmac 9 years
Case by case. I've had to make this decision, again and again. I have faith in the juvenile system's ability to get kids help, but I also know that a lot aren't accepting that help, that their biggest influence is their parental interaction and that rarely will the system be able to break their self identity as a part of a family that has different morals than society. I also believe that the older the kid, and the more serious the actions, mean that some cases warrant taking the minor to adult punishment. In my state the violent crimes like murder, serious assaults, and sexual assaults have to be brought in adult court where the minor is over 15. There is a point where the consequences (like prison) may not be fully realized, since kids seem to think they are invincible, but the choice is a real one to take part in breaking the law and hurting someone else.
lcterp lcterp 9 years
This is an issue I'm very conflicted about. In this day and age I think it's very difficult for a child to NOT know what hurting/killing someone else is. It's on the news daily and it's a staple part of movies and video games. I'm not saying these things influence to commit crimes, that's a whole other can of worms but I generally think that young people who commit crimes know what they're doing. They are committing an adult action, shouldn't they take adult responsibility. It's such a complex issue.
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
I forgot to add that they should not face major penalties. However, if they break the law once they are an adult, their previous records should be allowed in court to show a history of their actions. That way, it is possible for them to get maximum (or close to) punishment for their new crime. This has the potential to make up for the time lost because they were a minor without them being punished twice for the same crime. I hope this makes sense... :)
Jillness Jillness 9 years
My boyfriend's cousin was shot in the head after two 15 year olds tried to steal her car and rape her for gang initiation. I think that some young kids do deserve to be severely punished. I think that since maturity levels vary, so should punishment. That is why we have the legal system, to determine punishment on a case by case basis.
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
According to brain research, the adolescent brain is undergoing an extreme restructuring. This is the time of life where we begin to truly understand what is right and wrong. If kids are not taught a set of values that go along with societal norm, I believe that you get kids like this. Also, kids today have to deal with so many more and different adult issues than in previous times. I'm not the type to blame the media for the "corruption" of youth but combined with the potential lack of parental supervision, he may have thought that violence was an ok way of dealing with his stress. On top of this, it has been shown that in adolescent boys (girls too but more so boys), the frontal lobe which helps control behavior isn't anywhere close to being developed. This leads to impulsive behaviors that don't allow children the time to decide right from wrong. Unfortunately, this isn't nature vs nurture, it's nature compounded with nurture! I think children who commit crimes need to be thoroughly evaluated. There are some who make "stupid" decisions and some who are truly serial felons-in-training. There is no fool proof way to find out if a child can be rehabilitated but I would like to hope it's possible. :)
LiLRuck44 LiLRuck44 9 years
I get your point meumitsuki, but then who are we letting decide each case, some law officials that don't have a clue who the child really is? I don't think it's fair to charge some kids under 18 as adults and not others. Why have an age limit at all?
meumitsuki meumitsuki 9 years
The age 18 is set as the finish line to adulthood, however not everyone is mentally ready. I think this issue needs to go on a person by person basis, just being under 18 should not give you free reign to avoid a harsh jail sentence, nor should we be sentencing 12 year olds to consecutive life terms. I don't know the specifics of this case, so I can't say what I think for sure. I had a boss once who thought that crimes committed by kids 15 and under should have one of the parents serve the sentence alongside the child.
MoonBGold MoonBGold 9 years
This is a tentative issue. On one hand, I can understand how it can be horrifying to try children as adults in the eyes of the law. I don't see how the life sentence is acceptable, except in the eyes of the family of the murdered girl, but I can understand the reasoning behind it. On the other hand, at 12, I definitely would have understood the extent, and consequences of my actions. This boy sounds like he needs intense psychological help, and he's not going to recieve that behind bars, that's for sure. It's very conflicted, because there are so many sides to consider.
designergirl designergirl 9 years
Minor criminals should never be tried as adults. Why have an age limit if you're not going to follow it? These kids need therapy; they don't need to be locked up forever. There is no way a twelve year old can fully understand his actions.
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