That is the question that bubbled up in Oak Cliff last week when six teenagers ages 13-16 went on a violent crime spree through Oak Cliff, robbing five people at gunpoint before crashing a stolen car in Mesquite.
Some of the victims in that spree want any of the accused minors who have been convicted of past violent crimes to be tried as adults, if they are eligible. Children as young as 14 who are accused of capital or first-degree felonies, such as aggravated robbery, can be tried and sentenced as adults in Texas.
The teenagers robbed Garrett and Caroline Scharton outside their home across the street from Rosemont Elementary’s lower campus on Stevens Bluff Lane at about 12:30 a.m. July 23. The Schartons have made numerous TV news appearances calling on the Dallas County District Attorney’s office to be tough on their attackers.
“The gun doesn’t have an age,” Garrett Scharton told WFAA. “The bullets don’t have an age. The crime is an adult crime, and the trauma and terror are real.”
A friend of the Schartons organized a crime meeting at a Deep Ellum bar earlier this week, and those in attendance organized to stand in solidarity for tough prosecution. Find a video of that meeting below.
District Attorney Faith Johnson has said she intends to seek adult punishment in the case where possible.
But at least one person in Dallas is asking for leniency.
The Rev. Edwin Robinson wrote an opinion in the Dallas Morning News that said in doing so, Johnson is “bowing to the outrage of the more outraged and privileged.”
Scientists, social scientists and even the Supreme Court have repeatedly recognized that children are cognitively different from adults and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. Study after study shows that children continue developing until around age 25, and this cognitive immaturity increases the likelihood that teenagers will take more risks and even engage in criminal behavior.
Most children grow out of this immaturity, and even those who committed criminal acts in their youth demonstrate tremendous capacity for change. Research from the UCLA Law School shows that the juvenile system — with programs tailored to how children think and learn — is more effective at rehabilitating youth than the adult system and that juveniles prosecuted as adults are actually more likely to reoffend than juveniles who are treated like the children that they are.
He goes on to call it “unconscionable” for Johnson to petition for moving any of these juvenile cases to adult court “simply because a vocal victim demanded it, with little consideration for the lives or circumstances of the children.”
On the one hand, they’re kids. On the other hand, there are traumatized crime victims who don’t feel safe in our neighborhood.
There doesn’t appear to be an easy solution.