Last week, we began a series of posts about the difficulties and controversies of sentencing juvenile offenders for serious crimes such as murder. Most juvenile crimes are generally sentenced lightly, with the understanding that minors make mistakes and should be allowed to reform as they grow older.
However, when teenagers commit serious or violent crimes, it is difficult for courts to know how to charge them, how to try them and how to sentence them. The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently upheld a sentence of life without parole for a Wisconsin youth who was convicted of murder when he was just 14 years old.
Our last two posts focused on the facts of the case, as well as some arguments about why leniency in sentencing might be warranted for serious juvenile offenders. Today, we'll look at the recent history of juvenile crimes in Wisconsin and how it influenced this most recent ruling.
This is not the first time Wisconsin authorities have dealt with a 14-year-old murderer. In 1983, a Mineral Point boy was convicted of murdering his adoptive parents and brother. Because Wisconsin law at the time did not allow him to be tried as an adult, Wisconsin authorities instead had to charge him with juvenile delinquency.
He spent several years in a detention center in Waukesha County. When he was 19, he was released, given a plane ticket to Florida, and had his name legally changed.
Many Wisconsin residents were outraged by this verdict. As a result, the state has since changed its laws to allow certain juveniles to be tried as adults. In fact, Wisconsin's judicial treatment of minors has become increasingly tough since that time. Wisconsin law allows children as young as 10 years old to be classified as delinquent, which is one of the lowest in the nation.
In recent years, the winds have begun to change again and there is now more public support for leniency with juvenile offenders. However, when children commit the most serious of adult crimes, there will always be questions surrounding how to properly punish them and hold them accountable.
Source: Journal-Sentinel online, "Sentence of life without parole for teen upheld," Bruce Vielmetti, 20 May 2011