In our democracy, should violent juvenile offenders be punished as adults?
For 17 days, people in the Washington, DC, suburbs waited anxiously for police to catch whoever had killed ten people and seriously wounded two others. The killer(s) shot a 13-year-old as he got off a school bus. Others were shot as they put gas in their cars, mowed their lawns, or left restaurants. The police eventually caught the two suspects; one was a 17-year-old boy. He had been abandoned by his father as a baby, neglected by his mother, and spent time in a homeless shelter. The other was his "mentor,” who had essentially adopted him and taught him how to shoot high-powered rifles at people. At his trial, the boy’s lawyers claimed the older man had brainwashed him into becoming a killer. The teen said he thought the ransom would be used to set up a community for other neglected and abandoned children.
The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy.
We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “In our democracy, should violent juvenile offenders be punished as adults?” What principles might you add to the list below?
In a democracy elected and appointed officials are responsible for their actions and have to be accountable to the people. Officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people they represent, not for themselves or their friends.
- Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights
Most democratic countries have a list of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Often called a “Bill of Rights,” this document limits the power of government and explains the freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country. It protects people from a government that might abuse its powers. When a Bill of Rights becomes part of a country’s constitution, the courts have the power to enforce these rights.
- Citizen Participation
One of the most basic principles of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is more than just a right—it is a duty. Citizen participation may take many forms, including running for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, serving on a jury, and even protesting. Citizen participation builds a better democracy.
In a democracy all individuals are valued equally, have equal opportunities, and may not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individuals and groups maintain their rights to have different cultures, personalities, languages, and beliefs. All are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law without discrimination.
- Rule of Law
The Rule of Law
In a democracy no one is above the law—not even a king, elected president, police officer, or member of the military. Everyone must obey the law and will be held accountable if they violate it. Democracy also insists that laws are equally, fairly, and consistently enforced.
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Graham v. Florida U.S. 560 (2010).
Griffin, Patrick, Sean Addie, Benjamin Adams, and Kathy Firestine, "Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting," September 2011, National Report Series Bulletin, U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/232434.pdf
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Lee, Morgan, “Alleged Teen Hitman ‘El Ponchis’ Charged With Murder in Mexico,” Union Tribune (February 11, 2011), www.borderlandbeat.com/2011/02/alleged-teen-hitman-elponchis-
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Liptak, Adam, “Justices Limit Life Sentences for Juveniles,” New York Times (May 17, 2010), http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/us/politics/18court.html (accessed June 24, 2011).
Mena, Paul, “¿Adolescentes de 16 años juzgados como adultos?” BBC Mundo (August 7 2010), http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/america_latina/2010/08/100807_ecuador_carcel_adolescentes_lh.shtml?print=1 (accessed June 24, 2011).
Redding, Richard E., “Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?” Juvenile Justice Bulletin (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, August 2008).
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).
Scott, Elizabeth S. and Laurence Steinberg, Rethinking Juvenile Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).