Why We Should Not Imprison Children, An Unpopular Opinion
Seventeen year old, Aidan Zellmer, has made headlines this past week. Zellmer was convicted of beating a 10-year-old girl to death in Colorado. There were reports that the teen had a mental health issue, troubled family history and suffered abuse. This crime occurred when Zellmer was just fifteen years old. Nonetheless, he was tried as an adult. He pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder.
Zellmer was sentenced to life in prison and will be eligible for parole in 40 years. Until he is 18, he will be in a juvenile prison.
As a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney, I have an unpopular but consistent opinion on situations involving criminal offenses and minors which I will address further down in the Practice Note. First, I will do a quick rundown of Georgia Juvenile Laws in today's post.
Georgia Juvenile Laws
In Georgia, you are an adult for the purpose of criminal prosecution at the age of 17. However, O.C.G.A. §16-3-1 states that the minimum age for criminal prosecution is 13 years old because a child under the age of 13 cannot form the requisite criminal intent to commit a delinquent act.
However, there are certain felonies that will be moved to a Georgia Superior Court. This is known as Georgia Superior Court Jurisdiction over Juveniles. These felonies include:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Aggravated sodomy
- Aggravated child molestation
- Aggravated sexual battery
- Aggravated battery
- Armed robbery
Another way for a child to be treated as an adult in criminal cases is if the prosecutor petitions the Superior Court. This occurs in situations where the child is at least 15 years old at the time of the offense and the crime is one that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
This boy was fifteen when the crime occurred. We have juvenile systems in this country because as a society, we recognize that children cannot form “criminal intent” because their minds are insufficiently developed. This recognition matches with our public policy that we should not throw away the lives of children.
The facts here are both horrific and disgusting. The victim was a ten year old girl who was senselessly murdered in a horrible way. It's understandable that people want retribution in situations like these. But the justice system should not be subject to popular opinion or public pressure.
The general deterrence of crime requires punishment. Specific deterrence of this crime is that this boy deserves punishment. However this is inconsistent with the entire theory of the juvenile system that children should not be held to an adult standard and the policy of not throwing away the lives of young people.
In my opinion, this calls for a hybrid system. We simply cannot say that children need correcting unless the crime is considered “so severe” that we should just throw them away. My suggestion would be for us to hold the child in custody until age 25 and then provide him 15 years of supervised release. Life imprisonment for someone convicted of committing a crime at age 15 is barbaric.
If you or a loved one has been arrested, contact our offices today. We can offer the help you need with your case. Call now.