Responsibility for criminal behavior should be determined by maturity, not by age
In Montana on Monday, Yellowstone County District Judge G. Todd Baugh tried to justify his lenient sentencing of ex-teacher Stacey Rambold for admittedly raping one of his 14-year-old students who later committed suicide. He said that Cherice Moralez was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. He then sentenced the ex-teacher to serve just 30 days of a 15-year prison sentence. His remarks, more than the lenient sentence, set off a tsunami of criticism. Judge Baugh has since apologized for making those remarks.
The Judge’s remarks, especially since the victim committed suicide, were stupid and insensitive. However he does have a valid point about the victim having been older than her age.
I have long maintained that it is no longer appropriate to set an arbitrary age – 17, 18, 19 or whatever – for deciding whether a young person is mature enough to be or not to be responsible for criminal behavior. The same can be said about setting an arbitrary age for the ‘rape’ of underage girls.
Our juvenile justice system was established over 100 years ago on the premise that children who committed mischievous or other delinquent acts – breaking windows, shooting out street lights with BB guns, shoplifting, petty thefts, truancy – were too immature to realize that what they were doing was wrong. That was long before juveniles started to pile up armed robberies and heinous crimes of violence.
Juveniles mature much earlier than they did years ago and they have become more sophisticated in their criminal behavior. Whether they are gang bangers, drug dealers, armed robbers or cold blooded killers, the age differentiation for criminal responsibility should no longer apply. Initially each of these young criminals should be charged as adults, not as juveniles, and then evaluated as to his or her maturity level before deciding whether to try them as juveniles or adults.
And the same applies to ‘child’ rape victims. Today many 14-year-old girls are sexually active. Should we really charge a 21-year-old man with rape for having sex with a consenting sexually active 14-year-old girl? If the answer is no, that still does not excuse a teacher taking advantage of his students.