Law vs. Morality and Social Standards

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Presume your 11-year-old child is involved in a serious case of a crime such as murder. You strongly believe that your child is incapable of committing such a vicious act and that some other factors contributed to this behavior. Given the seriousness of the crime, would you be comfortable with your child being tried as an adult? The law would dictate that such children be given a sentence while the societal moral and social standards may hold that these juveniles are merely lost kids who need guidance. This essay will examine whether the law is above moral and social standards, giving a brief history and the issues that arise when determining whether minors may be tried as adults in cases where they have committed serious crimes.

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History of Juvenile Justice

Since the establishment of the first juvenile court in the early nineties, children over the age of seven years were assumed to have criminal intent capabilities and were, therefore, liable for prosecution as adults. The courts held that all minors had moral reasoning capabilities as well as a character that are yet to be completely developed (Krisberg, 2005). For this reason, the principal objectives of the courts were to rehabilitate minors and impart the maturity of taking responsibilities for their actions. It was believed that due to their young age, children could easily be reformed successfully compared to grown adults.

Overview of the Problems

Today, these principles are still being used as benchmarks for delivering justice in the juvenile court systems. However, the recent years have seen a shocking number of violent juvenile cases. This has sparked outrage leading to debates over the treatment of violent cases that involve minors. On one hand, parties have suggested that juvenile offenders be tried in criminal courts. Supporters have added that this move will aid in making the society a much safer place as the offenders would be held responsible for their actions. On the other hand, opposing persons have raised concerns regarding the variation between the cognitive and moral abilities of juveniles compared to those of adults. So, should minors who commit violent crimes be tried as adults?

Political Issues

The laws hold that children under the age of eighteen are considered minors and should, therefore, be prosecuted in juvenile courts. Given the rise in crime rate committed by minors, concerns about the Justice departments ability to deal with such cases arose. Evidently, statistics have shown that minors are capable of committing heinous crimes. To this effect, several states have come to adopt legislations that permit adult trials for children, a move that has not been well received by sections of the community.

Support to claim

Critics of the adoption of this legislation suggest that there exist some underlying factors that cause such behavior. They argue from the cognitive and moral capabilities point of view where they state these capabilities are still developing and need to be properly directed. However, when parents view shocking pictures of incidents such as that of fifteen-year-old Kip Kinkel of Springfield Oregon, who shot two of his classmates and his parents, their impression is that juvenile courts should, in fact, be abolished.

Social Issues

The social problems lie in the inquisition as to whether these prosecution systems are effective enough in delivering the appropriate punishment for juvenile offenders. Do these minor offenders come back better citizens who can contribute positively towards to the community? The response to this question is dependent in the court in which offender is prosecuted. Juvenile courts are primarily rehabilitation and redirection institutions meant to reshape an individuals character. Criminal courts on the other hand mainly sentence offenders to serve jail term in prisons. It is, therefore, important to identify which court system serves the best interest of the community.

Support to claim

In states that have adopted adult trials for children, there are instances where the juvenile is served a jail term and sentenced to prison. Once they complete their sentence, they came out even worse and ended up being involved in more serious crimes. This was attributed to their interaction with more violent criminals within the prison walls. Also, there are those that go through rehabilitation but never change their character. They view juvenile justice as an escape route to avoid the penalties of their wrongdoing. The society, therefore, suffers more predation by these juveniles.

Ethical/Moral Issues

The debate as to whether it is appropriate for minors to be sentenced to prisons has also raised some ethical concerns. The idea of subjecting a child as young as eleven years of age to prison conditions has raised complaints from groups such as the Human Rights Watch. They have argued that it presents an unfavorable and unpleasant situation as it does not comply with the human ethical standards. Also, it is more likely that they will be abused and assaulted by other prisoners.

Support to claim

When measuring an individuals maturity of judgment, there are several factors to be considered and not just the age. These include their ability to shun impetuous decision making, act autonomously and evaluate a situation from different perspectives. Put together, these factors can be used to predict a persons level of delinquency (Champion, 2004). It would, therefore, seem illogical to send an eleven-year-old to prison for committing a serious crime. This also renders them inept to stand trial in an adult court.


In light of the above, it is evident that there are issues that arise when seeking to ascertain whether it is necessary to try minors in adult courts when they commit serious crimes. Political issues concerning matters of the law have sparked debates between different parties. The social issues have also emerged seeking to find the most effective way to deal with such juvenile cases. Ethical issues have also sought to find the boundary between the law and human ethical/Mortal standards. However, there have been fruitful efforts to find a balance amongst these issues thereby offering a satisfactory solution.


Champion, D. J. (2004). The juvenile justice system: Delinquency, Processing, and the Law. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Prentice Hall

Dyzenhaus, D., Ripstein, A., & Reibetanz, M. S. (2007). Law and Morality: Readings in Legal Philosophy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Krisberg, B. (2005). Juvenile Justice: Redeeming our children. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Pub.

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