Should Juvenilles Be Tried as Adults for Capital Offenses

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On May 9th, 2001 Lionel Tate, at the age of fourteen was sentenced to life in prison from a Florida judge. He was charged with the beating that resulted in death of a six-year-old neighbor girl, Tiffany Eunick (Where It All Began: 14-year-old Gets Life 1). Lionel claimed he was performing professional wrestling moves on Tiffany when she stopped breathing (Where It All Began: 14-year-old Gets Life 2). Lionel, along with many others, do not dispute the fact that his actions were the cause of Tiffany's death. The disagreement arises when one looks at the sentence Lionel was given. Did Lionel realize that his actions would result in the death of Tiffany Eunick? Should Lionel or any other juvenile be held responsible in the same manner as an adult for capital crimes? Recent studies show that juvenile brains are not fully developed making them incapable of fully understanding the transgressions of there actions and therefore should not be tried in adult courts.

To understand this situation in it's entirety, one must first know Lionel Tate's full story. On July 28, 1999 Kathleen Grossett-Tate, a highway patrol trooper for the state of Florida, brought Tiffany Eunick to her home to watch over her. This was not unusual being that Kathleen was a good friend of Tiffany's mother. Tiffany had been over to this residence a considerable amount of times before and played with Lionel without having any problems. After Kathleen finished preparing dinner for the two, she let them watch television. While they watched the television she went upstairs. Around the time of 10 P.M. the children's playing grew too loud for the Kathleen to ignore. The initial annoyance the two caused was swiftly replaced by terror 40 minutes later when Lionel informed Kathleen that Tiffany was not breathing. "Tate claimed that he put Eunick in a headlock and banged her head on a black lacquer table…" (Where It All Began: 14-year-old Gets Life 2). The grand jury that was investigating Lionel's case started to question this after new information was released. The medical examiner released a report that said there were extensive internal injuries that could not have been visible to investigators, including a detached liver. This report indicated that Lionel's actions must have been more violent and brutal. His case acquired nationwide attention being that he was twelve years old and being tried as an adult for murder (Where It All Began: 14-year-old Gets Life 2).

At the age of fourteen, Lionel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (Where It All Began: 14-year-old Gets Life 2). Cases like Lionel's are not a new or unusual situation. Juveniles are tried and convicted as adults for various crimes each and every year. In Lionel's home state juveniles being tried in adult courts have been rising significantly. In the years of 1975 and 1976, 904 juveniles were tried in adult courts. 2,883 juveniles in tried adult courts and 5,877 in the years of 1981 to 1982 and 1989 to 1990 followed this, respectively (Coalition for Juvenile Justice 183). Virginia also has some startling statistics in regards to juveniles being tried as adults. During the years of 1988 to 1990, 63 percent of juveniles that were tried in adult courts were sentenced to prison. Needless to say, the juveniles that were sentenced to prison received more severe punishment then their counterparts who were tried in juvenile courts (Coalition for Juvenile Justice 182). The average sentencing for juveniles in adult courts was also considerably different then juveniles who were tried in juvenile courts. Juveniles in adult courts received an average of 8.1 years compared to 7.6 months for individuals tried in juvenile courts. A study conducted in Utah followed fifty-three juveniles that were transferred to adult courts for five years. Forty-nine of these individuals were brought to court; forty of which plea-bargained and nine were sentenced by the court. Sixteen of these were given no...
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