The Firm Premiere Raises Juvenile vs. Adult Legal Issue

Guantanamo court room 2

Sunday night, the TV legal drama The Firm premiered on NBC. The back story is based on John Grisham’s novel (1991) and subsequent film (1993), and follows the thrilling tales of Attorney Mitch McDeere ten years after the time period of the original works.

The television series’ opening highlighted several of McDeere’s cases including defending a 14-year old boy who fatally stabbed a classmate in the school yard. McDeere’s client had started a fight with a third student who had significantly embarrassed him earlier. The victim, who met his demise, tried to break up the fight between the two, which was countered by a stabbing to his throat.

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In the end, the presiding judge raised an interesting point to whether the teen should be tried as an adult or a juvenile. He stated while the vicious act warranted the defendant to be harshly charged, his reaction to having his F-grade publicized to the whole school was an emotional one characteristic of a child. In the end, the judge decided to charge the adolescent as a juvenile, believing there was still hope of him growing up to be a decent, moral man.

Back in the real world, several minors that have been charged as adults for their crimes have recently made headlines:

  • Yesterday, 17-year old Anthony J. Gunn from Erie Pennsylvania was told he would be charged as an adult. His alleged crime – robbing a corner store of $500 and cartons of cigarettes while pointing a gun at the shopkeeper.
  • Monday night, Richard Richardson III (16 years old) allegedly shot and killed his father in their Bel Air, Maryland home and then dumped the body in a neighboring town. Tuesday, during his arraignment, Richardson was charged as an adult.
  • Monday, 16-year old Marqual Al’Dontea Lee in Pensacola, Florida was also charged as an adult. In December he allegedly stole an 85-year old woman’s purse after knocking her to the ground.

But, undoubtedly some legal studies or criminal justice degree classrooms are discussing what’s going on in Pennsylvania this week. Newspapers, based in Pittsburgh and New Castle, are pleading to an appeals panel to allow them access to the juvenile court trial of Jordan Brown. The defendant’s name has been publicized because originally he was slated to be tried as an adult for allegedly shooting to death his father’s fiancée and unborn baby when he was 11 years old. After an appeal submitted by the defence, highlighting that Brown would have a better chance of rehabilitation if he went through the juvenile system, the judge relented and moved the trial to juvenile court. Attorneys representing the newspapers are arguing that since all the details of the case were publicized when Brown was originally charged as an adult, that his trial should now be open to the press.

How does one decide if a suspect should be charged as an adult or a juvenile? Does the closeness to age of a majority play a factor? Are chances of rehabilitation somehow quantified? No doubt the severity of a crime plays a role. But it seems as though there are no clear answers when making these kinds of tough, legal decisions. Only time reveals whether the decision made was ideal.