- Published: November 13, 2012
Recently in the Houston Chronicle I read an article about a juvenile offender that will serve life imprison for a murder that he committed when he was only fifteen years old. The title of the article is “Young killer did the crime, but should he pay a lifetime?” After reading the article, my answer to that question is “no.” I don’t think that locking up Juan Garcia for a lifetime sentence makes sense if the goal is a justice system that is forward-looking and seeks rehabilitation rather than retribution.
Although a tough childhood is certainly no excuse for committing a crime, I think that in this case, as much as in any case, it is fair to say that Juan Garcia was a victim of circumstance. Based on the facts of the case and the things that the people who knew Juan said, I think that the factors that drove Juan to commit murder would be more “nurture” than “nature.” Juan had a terrible childhood. His father was abusive to his mother and eventually killed her before running away. Juan’s mother’s death crushed him, and then he got caught up with some bad people. The murder itself seems to be purely circumstantial—in other words, Juan wasn’t planning to kill anyone. He got caught up in the heat of the moment. He was a terrified fifteen-year-old kid, and so I don’t think that he deserves to spend most of his adult life in jail for that.
The article mentions that when Juan was only fifteen, saying that he hadn’t even grown a beard yet. I think it was clear that Juan was more of a child than an adult when this crime happened. From a neurological perspective, Juan’s brain was not fully developed at the time he committed this crime. As a fifteen-year-old, he wouldn’t have had fully developed impulse control, and he would have been more susceptible to the influence of others, such as his cousin that initiated the encounter that led to the murder. Considering Juan’s circumstances, I think that he should have been tried as a child rather than an adult. Clearly Juan had a very violent youth, but I don’t think there is anything psychologically wrong with him. Juan does not seem like a psychopath, just a confused kid. I think Juan is a perfect case for rehabilitation. Juan has already shown signs of rehabilitation since he’s been incarcerated these past five years.
Juan’s case is a really poignant example of the tension between a rehabilitive and retributive justice system as well as an example of the problems in the juvenile justice system. Juan is sentenced to life imprison for a crime he committed at age fifteen, when he could clearly be a candidate for rehabilitation. Juan is a victim of a criminal justice system that just wants punishment and retribution. Juan should have been tried as a juvenile, not as an adult. The article ends with the line, "I did wrong," he [Juan] says, "but I felt like the system did me wrong, too." This is probably true for a lot of people in the system, and these are the people that we should be rehabilitating rather than locking up for life.