The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of the Davis Clipper.
An English judge once said, “It is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” I thought about this last week after viewing a documentary film about a troublesome case in California and when reading about the death of a Utah soccer referee.
Both cases involve juvenile’s accused of killing other human beings. The Utah case Р a “hit” on social media Р involved a 17-year old boy who witnesses say punched a soccer referee in the head after being called for a yellow-card violation in a youth soccer match. Nine days later, the referee died, having never woken from a coma. One of his daughters said she wants justice, hinting that life imprisonment would be a suitable punishment.
The decision, of course, will rest with prosecutors, first. Will the youth be tried as a juvenile, or will he be tried as an adult?
A similar decision had to be made in Oxnard, Calif. five years ago. In a documentary film, previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and shown again last week for Wasatch Front audiences, a 14-year-old boy with possible white-supremacist leanings was charged as an adult for shooting a 15-year-old classmate in a junior high computer class. The shooter’s defense was that the victim was an openly transgendered boy (sometimes wearing high heels and makeup) and had angered the shooter by asking him to be his Valentine.
A film about it, “Valentine Road,” depicts a handful of jurors who sided with the shooter. These adults were sympathetic to the boy’s “discomfort” and “shame,” and the trial ended in a hung jury. The prosecutor steadfastly said the shooter had planned the killing and should be held accountable for the death. The defense successfully played the “blame the victim” card.
Facing a second trial, the boy made a plea deal for 21 years’ incarceration, with a release when he turns 39.
Was justice done? Should he have even been tried in an adult court? Should his sentence have been longer or shorter than 21 years? The audience at the screening was split.
Every case involving juveniles is obviously different. But in the case of the California shooting and the Utah soccer player, I side with the victims. Granted, junior high or high school-age adolescents often lack the maturity to make good decisions. But a society must firmly send the message that one cannot assault another person simply because they feel “uncomfortable” or disagree with a decision.
If a 17-year-old player is punching adult referees, I would expect similar violent “anger issues” in the future. I don’t think the boy will learn a lesson after several years in a youth detention center and become a Benedictine monk. In the California case, the imprisoned shooter has already been involved in several assaults of other inmates during his incarceration. Just because the boy had bad parenting and an often absent mother, society must be protected.
And one of the best methods of protection is letting teenagers know that society has rules and conduct has its consequences. There is no cowardice in getting angry, but there should be strict punishment for getting even.