At 16 and 17 years old I was just beginning some of the roughest times of my life. I was mentally unstable, impulsive, and reckless. From getting tormented by my ex-boyfriend, being physically and mentally abused by my mother, to struggling with my own mind and disorder. These were all contributing factors that sent me on a downward spiral in every aspect of my life. I craved thrill and was desperate to feel something, which led to my irresponsible behavior. At 16, with not a single charge on my record I was arrested, taken to a county jail in Alpharetta Georgia, and charged as an adult for shoplifting. I was put into a holding cell for 12 hours surrounded by incoherent, drunken, and cracked out adults and was traumatized. I was confused and began to question how I was detained and put in there if I wasn’t 18 for another two years. From that day I was on probation for one year and paid $75 dollars out of pocket every month. I knew what I did was wrong and was willing to accept my consequences, but it made me think. At 18 years old, a young individual graduates from adolescence and is promoted to adulthood. But when it comes down to it, does turning 18 really consider you an adult in the eyes of the law? Are these age restrictions cemented and unbendable? Are these regulations really made for the safety and protection of our people or are they changed and reformed when its most beneficial to our law enforcers and their wallets. The line drawn begins to be questioned when a majority of adults see someone of the age of 18 as too young and mentally underdeveloped to purchase alcohol but mature enough to harm their bodies by purchasing tobacco products, die for their country, vote for the next leaders of our country, and commit a serious crime. What I want for our future is more distinct and permanent lines drawn. There needs to be a clear and consistent age restrictions and definitions in all 50 states of our country.
After wondering if the law enforcers were trying to protect and serve in my personal situation it brought up lot of other questions. Was I being ‘taught a lesson’ due to my age and perceived immaturity? Did I perhaps fall victim to the infamous police ticket or in my case, arrest quota? I decided to consider both scenarios. While it is common knowledge that a large part of an officer’s job is in their own hands, where he or she will use their training and best judgement in deciding what course of action should be taken when a crime is committed, the line in the sand is not very defined. In 2015, Officer Chad Burden of the Broken Arrow Police Department in Broken Arrow, OK encountered a mother who attempted to shop-lift a jacket for her 3-year-old daughter at the local Wal-Mart because she was a few dollars short. Upon consulting with the Wal-Mart loss prevention office and speaking with the mother, Officer Burden decided to purchase the coat for the family instead of arrest the mother. “Sometimes, discretion is a great thing,” Burden said. “It’s like the best tool of police work.” Unfortunately, I did not experience the same empathetic response when I shop-lifted a guardian angel necklace that I felt would offer me comfort and safety but felt too guilty to ask my mother to purchase. A mother, a legal adult, was given more leniency than 16-year-old child in a rough situation of her own. This is the epitome of inconsistency in the law when the crime committed hinges on the age of the offender and/or the classification of an adult. This is not to say that discretion under the law is a bad thing. Perhaps this leniency and freedom should be given to soldiers ages 18 to 20 wanting to purchase a beer after returning from active duty.
Regardless of empathy, could I have been a victim to the profit motive? An example close to home is in Mountain View, Colorado, geographically the size of some large neighborhoods spanning only 3 blocks North-South and 6 blocks East-West. Here, 10 officers issued 3,624 tickets in 2014 while in 2013, generating $621,099, more than half of their municipal budget. This unusually high issuance of citations led PBS to do an investigative piece on the small-town department. Another example of this misuse of policing power occurred in New York City. Officer Adhyl Polanco states “I can tell my supervisors that I took three people to the hospital and I saved their lives. That the child that I helped deliver is healthy,” says Polanco. “I can tell them that. But that’s not going to cut it” (Despite Laws and Lawsuits, Quota-Based Policing Lingers). Polanco says that he and fellow officers were required to adhere to the “20 and one” rule; this means 20 tickets and one arrest per month. While many law enforcement agencies hold their cards close to their chest regarding quotas to the point of denying they exist, their actions speak louder than words. It’s this type of policing structure that leads me to lose faith in the system and its ability to maintain consistency.
There is so many different circumstances and different age restrictions that don’t quite make sense. At 16 years old you get a driver’s license and can operate an automobile. In 2015, 2,333 teens in the United States ages 16–19 were killed and 235,845 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. That means that six teens ages 16–19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. At 18 years old you can purchase tobacco products which are fatal to your health and can cause numerous different of types of cancer. Not only can using tobacco products cause lung cancer, it can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, live, bladder, cervix, colon, and a type of leukemia. Every year about 660,000 people in the united states are diagnosed with and 343,000 people die from a cancer caused by tobacco use. At 18 you can also open up a bank account, and potentially put yourself in debt. Someone can legally purchase a firearm that has the possibility to harm or kill yourself and others.” Between 1984 and 1994, juvenile (younger than 18) homicides committed with handguns increased by 418 percent, and juvenile homicides committed with other guns increased by 125 percent. During this time, adolescents (ages 14 to 17) had the largest proportional increase in homicide commission and victimization, young adults (ages 18 to 24) had the largest absolute increase, and there was much crossfire between the two age groups. Gun homicide accounted for all of the increase in youth homicide. The youth violence epidemic peaked in 1993 and was followed by a rapid, sustained drop over the rest of the 1990s. However, in 2000, more than 10,000 Americans were killed with guns, and guns are much more likely to be used in homicides of teens and young adults than in homicides of people of other ages” (Braga). As well as legally carrying a firearm at 18, you are also considered developed enough to commit a serious crime, go to prison, and receive the death penalty. A young soldier is eligible at 18 to drop his or her life, get drafted to a third world country, and risk their lives for the protection of our country, but is legally not a loud to enter a bar and purchase a beer. Only at 21 which is 3 years older than the legal “adult age” can someone purchase alcohol. To pun 18-year-old who just enlisted into the marines is able to carry a firearm and risk his own life to protect our people.
As a 19-year-old student I can understand how my opinion of the situation can strongly disagree with an adult’s opinion who is 40 years of age or older. They would typically think of young adults at my age as irresponsible and immature. Where as a college student who is 19 years old would argue that if their age meets the requirements and they are considered mature enough to bear arms and commit a serious crime, they should be able to purchase alcohol. Where a young adults immaturity can be accurate in certain cases, I don’t think age alone makes someone an adult. For example, why is the voting age 18 and not, say 16 or 21? At 18 years old there is not a scientific foundation behind the age itself. There is not a clear and strong reason as to why 18 was chosen as the minimum voting age besides the passing of the 26th amendment. Although someone in the general public who is un informed about mental growth would assume that a majority of 18-year-old have reached full maturity, researchers have found that adolescence actually extends into your early 20s. There is proven scientific studies that state critical parts of your brain, specifically the pre-frontal cortex involved in decision making, organizing behavior, and problem solving are not fully developed until age 25. “The specific changes that follow young adulthood are not yet well studied, but it is known that they involve increased myelination and continued adding and pruning of neurons. As a number of researchers have put it, “the rental car companies have it right.” The brain isn’t fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car” (J.Giedd).
In the article “What is the Age of Responsibility” written by Alan Greenblatt, he concentrates on the United States age laws specifically and asserts “Consequently, in most states, a 10-year-old charged with murder can be tried as an adult. Slightly older teens can be tried in adult courts for virtually every other crime. Even when states wait until 18 to treat criminals as adults, they don’t like to wait long” (Greenblatt). He questions the system and says “adulthood” already has its familiar set points of 18 and 21 but should we be interrogative of the age of responsibility since the adulthood age line is so discrete? From my perspective and relating back to my personal injustice with the system, I do not think age is what makes you an adult. If this was true I would not have been detained for a misdemeanor as a first offender when underage. I agree with and can understand how in certain cases, these laws can be altered when it comes to more serious, felonious crimes, such as the murder of 2-year-old James Bulger by 10-year old’s Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. In this specific circumstance a heinous felony was committed and the two 10-year-old boys were charged as an adult for murder. Where this degree of punishment was taken in the James Patrick bulger case, the same penalty did not apply to 16-year-old Danny Ray Luis in the cruel murder of 73-year-old Erma Joyce Hester. Danny Ray Luis was convicted as a juvenile which made him ineligible for the death penalty being 19 days shy of the age of 17, being the eligible age for the death penalty in the state of North Carolina. When comparing these two cases how is it justifiable to charge two 10-year old’s as an adult, but a 16-year-old as a juvenile when both crimes are equally as atrocious. Will I still have this uncertainty with the legal system in the future and have to worry whether or not my children will get adult charges for misdemeanor offenses like littering or j walking?
In an age where the line between childhood and adulthood is blurrier than ever, what is it that makes a person an adult? Is it age, mental growth, or the severity of a crime committed. What ive learned after researching my topic is exactly what ive assumed. In the eyes of the law you are legally considered an adult at 18 but there is not a clear and consistent definition of what it means to actually be an adult in all states of our country. Ive found that a portion of officers are required to make a quota of certain tickets and arrests at the end of each month. The drive for officers to protect and serve is no longer their moto and priority, the only importance is to make their profit, and punch in their time card. This is a huge issue in our legal system that needs to be addressed because what seems like a minor misunderstanding of our age decrees to the law enforcer taking action, is the beginning of a downward spiral in an offender’s life or the lack of justice received by victims loved ones. There is also demonstrated inconsistency in the range of different age restrictions and no plausible reasoning to back up these laws. In fact, there is scientific research that proves the prefrontal cortex, a vital brain function that is in charge of abstract thinking, thought analysis, and regulating behavior is not fully developed until we are in our mid twenty’s. This is a proven fact that law officials of the judicial system have not considered, as they sit on their royal entitled bottoms counting the reeled in money of the people’s expenses from bail, probation, arrests, and tickets to the tax money pocketed from civilian purchase of firearms, alcohol, and tobacco products. I think law officials take advantage of their power and pick and choose when it’s most convenient for them to charge someone who is “under age”. What I hope to do by writing this paper is to open the eyes of law makers, adults, and the general public. I want to bring attention to the lack of defined terms.
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