States Get Tough on Children Who Commit Violent Crimes

By 1996, Boston Globe | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

States Get Tough on Children Who Commit Violent Crimes


1996, Boston Globe, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The pizza delivery man probably thought he was on pretty safe ground when he refused to hand over his money. After all, the would-be robber stood barely 5 feet tall and had the gentle face of a child.

But the youth, Tony Hicks, was 14, and authorities say he meant business when he allegedly shot the victim just over a year ago. Hicks was scheduled Thursday to become the youngest person in California history to be tried as an adult for murder - the latest example of a national shift toward treating youngsters who commit violent crimes as grown-ups in court.

"It's a real hot-button issue for our state's politicians . . . and it's a very important trend in the entire United States," said Lisa Greer, a member of a state panel studying juvenile crime. "You're talking about a fundamental change that speaks to very, very deep issues to us as a society and as a culture." Responding to an escalation in violent youth offenses, politicians in every state are trying to enact laws making it easier to try young people as adults. By doing so, they are scrapping a century-old principle of American jurisprudence - that juveniles are so moldable that all but the rare exception can be rehabilitated - and replacing it with a system emphasizing punishment and public safety. New Hampshire changed its statutes a few months ago, and already a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old face life sentences if convicted as adults on murder charges. And the Massachusetts House approved a bill last month that would require criminal trials for youths 14 and older charged with first- or second-degree murder. Murder, Rape, Robbery Almost every state has now signed on to some version of the get-tough approach, at least for first-degree murder but increasingly for lesser crimes. …

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